NASA vs SpaceX – How Different They Are?

Since the establishment of space travel, only three countries have been able to launch humans into space. The first person to travel into space was a Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961, who orbited the earth in the Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961. Only weeks later, the United States launched its first manned spacecraft, Freedom 7 carrying astronaut Alan Shepherd.

It wouldn’t be until 2003 that China would launch its first manned mission, Shenzhou 5, taking Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei on a successful 21-hour mission into space and back. Since then, many space agencies have achieved a great feat, but no one has been able to come close to NASA in terms of success.

In the midst of this space race, Elon Musk gave birth to a private space company, SpaceX, which is dominating the business aspect of space exploration today. The private space agency has become so successful that people are actually comparing it with NASA.

Is SpaceX really challenging NASA or they just work side by side for a better future of human race? This article will help you to understand major differences between NASA and SpaceX, and how the future looks like for both of them and space research at whole.

NASA vs SpaceX: A Brief Introduction

NASA (short for National Aeronautics and Space Administration) was created in 1958 under the National Space Act signed by U.S President Dwight D. Eisenhower. According to the act, NASA’s space exploration would forever be “devoted to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind“.

It wasn’t until July 20, 1969, that NASA pioneered the space travel when it launched the Apollo 11 into space and made the first successful moon landing.

SpaceX, a brainchild of tech entrepreneur Elon Musk was founded back in May 2002. His philosophy behind the SpaceX is “making life multi-planetary” by eventually colonizing Mars. Over the years, in his various interviews, Musk has stated that human extinction on planet earth is inevitable.

What’s in the Future?

NASA is currently working on multiple high-profile space projects. Some significant missions include NISAR (NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar) a joint venture between NASA and ISRO to develop a dual-frequency synthetic aperture radar satellite for remote sensing. Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) and Euclid, both entitled to investigate the dark energy.

Back in 2006, NASA announced an ambitious mission to develop a permanent base on the moon’s surface, but was terminated by the former President Barack Obama and directed a generic focus on manned missions to asteroids and Mars, as well as extending support for the ISS.

According to NASA’s estimation, it wouldn’t be until 2030 that it will be able to transport humans to the Red planet.

The private space exploration entity SpaceX, on the other hand, has set high targets for the next decade. The company vowed to develop a reusable launch system that can be used promptly.

Musk has also stated that one of his major goals is to improve the cost to access the space, ultimately by a factor of ten. While SpaceX hasn’t yet launched humans into space,  it intends to do so in the time span of 2-4 years.

The company has also proclaimed that within 50-100 years, its Interplanetary Transport system will be transporting 1 million people to Mars. With today’s available technology, sending one man into the Red planet would cost around $10 billion.

Money Matters

On average, from 1958 to 2012 NASA’s annual budget has been approximately 1% of the federal budget. Only for a brief period, it’s budget allocation witnessed a surge due to the Apollo mission in 1966, peaking at 4.41%. For the Fiscal Year 2015, NASA received approximately $18.01 billion from the federal government with $549 million in add-ons.

Until May 2012, SpaceX had operated with total funding of $1 billion in its first ten years of operation. This includes many private equities and Musk’s own investment of around $100 million. The remainder has come from payments on long-term launch contracts and development contracts. The company also enjoyed many federal and state subsidies, including huge loans.

In 2015, SpaceX raised over $1 billion in funding from Google and Fidelity establishing the company valuation at approximately $12 billion. There was speculation over SpaceX, that it will go public after an IPO in 2012, but it was soon dismissed by Elon Musk.

As of 2019, the value of SpaceX has risen to $33 billion. More detailed budget of the company is not available as it is not a public company.

Read: Can I Buy SpaceX Stock? How Much Is It Worth Today?

Achievements

Well, there is an almost never-ending list of NASA’s achievements over the years, but we will try to keep it brief. Apart from its legendary Apollo missions, one of which made a human presence on moon surface possible, Project Gemini (second manned mission) Voyager and Pioneer missions are some of its longstanding achievements.

Read: 13 of the Biggest NASA’s Future Missions

NASA has launched more than 100 crewed missions and well over 1000 unmanned missions into space since its establishment. Its last manned space shuttle launch was in 2011. But perhaps NASA’s greatest recent success was the successful launch of its Mars rover in 2011 and its ongoing work on that planet.

Moreover, we should not forget about NASA’s contribution towards Global Climate Change studies, which has caused some recent rift with current U.S government.

Even though SpaceX is new in this field, it has already earned respect among other space agencies around the world. Its grandest creation to this date is the Falcon Heavy payload rocket which is designed to carry people. It also has a spacecraft named Dragon which is designed to carry payloads, but the company is pretty determined to alter it for human space travel.

In 2010, SpaceX became the first privately owned company to successfully complete a space mission. Five years later, in 2015, the company achieved an unprecedented feat after executing a guided landing of an orbital rocket’s first stage on land. They repeated this success on the ocean platform.

In 2019, SpaceX became the first private space agency to send a human-rated spacecraft to space and the first private agency to autonomously dock a spacecraft to the ISS. Musk has also unveiled the company’s plan to build the world’s largest, fully reusable rocket, currently scheduled for the 2020s.

Final Verdict

The history of NASA’s space missions is a fascinating story, and it’s the reason for much of our understanding of space. There is no doubt that without this veteran organization, we would have a primitive knowledge of our surroundings.

For decades, NASA has been a cornerstone in space research in America. But now that the Elon Musk’s SpaceX has arrived into the big screen, it will be interesting to see how they will proceed in the near future. Will NASA make any major changes in its future projects?

Read: What if NASA Had The US Military Budget?

Many think that NASA should continue exploring the deep space, while manned landing and space tourism should be done by SpaceX. What is your take? What do you think should be ideal for them?

Written by
Bipro Das

Biprojit has been writing for RankRed.com since 2015. He mainly focuses on game-changing inventions but also covers general science with a particular interest in astronomy. His domain extends to mobile apps and knows a thing or two about finance. Biprojit has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Delhi, majoring in Geography.

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4 comments
  • Apollo 11 was the first successful manned mission to the surface of the moon. It was not the last. There have been 12 US men who have walked on the moon in 6 separate missions starting with Apollo 11 and ending with Apollo 17. (Apollo 13 of course never made it to the surface)

    I also believe far to many Americans fail to understand the contribution to space exploration that NASA makes on a daily basis without any need of manned space flight. Space X is a space transportation company (and a good one thus far) but NASA is a space science agency and they are the envy of the world. Comparing the two companies is not a compliment to Space X, it is an insult to NASA.

    • Once I read that part I skipped the rest of the article for a few days until my brain demanded I finish it for completeness sake. How can someone claim to make any real comparison when they are so ignorant of the basic facts. ANY quick google search clearly shows that there was far more than one lunar landing made by NASA. This fact strongly implies that the author of this article did very little, if any, actual research. Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 each made successful manned lunar landings.

      SpaceX is heading in the right direction and has what I believe is a very well thought out gameplan to get where they want to go. In the future I fully believe SpaceX will rival NASA in many areas. But I don’t think many of those areas will be basic science areas. SpaceX is a “child” compared to the extremely mature “adult” of NASA and I don’t think SpaceX has any desire to grow into the same type of “adult” that NASA has become. I guess the “comparing apples to oranges” analogy mostly fits here, but I still find many flaws with that analogy :-/

      • As a little side note for just how important those skipped lunar landing where to the big picture: Apollo 11 spent a total of 2 hours and 31 minutes on the surface outside of the lunar module. The other 5 lunar landings accounted for 77 hours and 57 minutes combined outside their lunar modules (these are called EVAs or extra-vehicular activities.) This article failed to even notice the existence of 96.87% of the total time NASA had astronauts outside walking around on the moon’s surface.

      • I also believe Space X will rival NASA in many areas in the very near future. Still I believe they will rival them in terms of effective and reliable access to space but will fall far short of any thing equaling NASA’s contribution to space science.

        In the next couple of decades how many exoplanets will Space X discover? How many NEOs will they identify and track, How many pictures (and readings) from Saturn, Jupiter, Pluto will they provide, how many craft will they have exploring the surface of Mars, how many crafts will they have orbiting Mars to study it’s atmosphere, how many crafts will they have traveling beyond our solar system, How many studies of our star will they provide, How many images of deep space will they provide, how many studies of black holes, dark matter, cosmic rays, supernova, etc. will they offer to the world of science.

        NASA is a space science agency and they are without rival. You have very correctly pointed out that to many Americans don’t even understand NASA’s accomplishments in space travel how could they possibly understand the science performed as a result of these travels.