Many have been critical of the modern Space Race. While space research in the past has been done purely for research — such as the founding of the International Space Station — the modern reboot is focused on commercialisation, an angle that Democrat Bernie Sanders isn't particularly fond of.
In an opinion piece for The Guardian, Sanders criticised NASA's place in the modern era of space travel. Sanders argued that instead of being the independent powerhouse it once was, the current version of NASA has become an ATM for the likes of billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.
Bernie Sanders on NASA’s reliance on Musk and Bezos
In the op-ed, Sanders claimed that NASA’s current strategy of awarding contracts to startups and companies is becoming an issue. Instead of funding a space race between the United States and other countries, NASA is instead fuelling battles between privatised companies.
"I am concerned that NASA has become little more than an ATM machine to fuel a space race not between the US and other countries, but between the two wealthiest men in America – Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, who are worth more than $450bn combined," he said.
Sanders continued to explain that today's space race “mostly consists of private companies utilizing NASA facilities and technology essentially free of charge to launch satellites into orbit”. This argument hyper-targets Amazon and SpaceX, both of whom utilise NASA tech to launch “very profitable” satellites such as Starlink.
The Democrat explained that “space exploration is very exciting” and has “potential to improve life” on Earth. However, he also explained that the move towards strictly private space companies is going to make the “richest people in the world incredibly richer and unimaginably more powerful”.
“When we take that next giant leap into space let us do it to benefit all of humanity,” Bernie Sanders said. “Not to turn a handful of billionaires into trillionaires.”
Furthermore, with space mining soon to become a new lucrative business for huge space companies, NASA is giving billionaires access to billions of dollars of resources. However, the taxpayers that allow billionaires to get those resources will get none of that money. Sanders said:
"The questions we must ask are: who will be cashing those checks? Who will, overall, be benefiting from space exploration? Will it be a handful of billionaires or will it be the people of our country and all of humanity?"
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Sanders isn't wrong
Bernie Sanders isn't wrong with his evaluation of modern NASA. With Russia as its enemy, the NASA of the 50s and 60s performed wonders to get man on the moon. In fact, all the way up until the 90s, with the launch of the ISS, the space administration has refuted commercialisation in favour of pure research.
However, that's not the NASA of today. While today's NASA is still focused on research — hence the upcoming Moon 2024 and Mars 203X missions — it is relying more and more on the likes of SpaceX and Blue Origin.
Furthermore, NASA’s contracts system has been heavily criticised in the past. Just last year, NASA sought to give all of its Moon Landing contacts to SpaceX. This resulted in Blue Origin and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos suing NASA for not picking his company. Afterwards, NASA gave in and awarded Bezos’ company a contract.
This shows just how corrupt privatised space travel can become. With enough money, one company can simply force its inclusion onto a project. However, if NASA decided to everything in house, then it wouldn't have to bother with the stress of picking between two billionaires to award contracts to.