Stark Differences between SpaceX and NASA

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Sandy H.

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Mar 20, 2009
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Nothing surprising or Earth shattering, but still a bunch of good first-hand examples and insights:

Looks like the link only gives you a snippet of the article, not the full one unless you are subscribed to the service, so I only read what was free.

The bottom line, IMO, is that SpaceX has a leader who has a mission. That leader will do what it takes to meet the mission until the money runs out and then everybody will go home or it will have previously succeeded. That leader will employ people who wisely spend the money, but not micromanage those expenditures. I imagine each dollar spent is considered an inch of rope. . . you spend it for good, no problem, but you spend it wastefully, that's another inch of rope to hang you. Not facts, but impressions.

NASA had direction from leaders back in the 1960's and the leaders said make the mission happen, but do it around this amount of money. NASA tried, got close, went over-budget, but the leaders allowed it to proceed, due to the political/Cold War environment. NASA went to the moon.

NASA has been micromanaged for decades upon decades. The budgets and direction for the agency change every 4-8-12-16 years, depending, but it always changes. The most logical design for the initial spec gets pork-belly spending, feature creep and management input that cripples the mission, but somehow becomes standard operating procedure/design/spec/whatever.

If SpaceX was run by hundreds of people, opting for goals that improved their individual agenda, ability to keep their job, do the least amount of work/delegating the most amount of their work to others, then they would be at or behind what NASA is currently doing. But they have a leader with a goal, who controls both the money and the direction and answers to very few (if any) 'stakeholders'.

I appreciate our democracy. I believe our current situation with government is quite skewed for various reasons, but the main point I'm trying to make is that SpaceX is making their own destiny, being lead by a person who is focused and also fronting much of the bill. The super talented engineers at NASA and all of the other great legacy aerospace companies (Boeing, Lockheed, etc.) have been hamstrung by the system (random funding, random specification, random goals) and SpaceX decided to say 'screw that.'

They will succeed or they will fail - history will let us know the answer, but everybody paying attention to the industry today can't say they didn't/aren't trying and literally putting everything they can into it. I wasn't there, but I wonder if SpaceX is actually working as hard to achieve the goal today as NASA did in the 60's. A big part of me believes that the early NASA guys worked way harder (physically, mentally) but maybe I'm wrong. They had significantly less information and had to invent the science vs. improve the science. I can't imagine what that crew from back then could do with unified leadership and modern technology!!!!!

I do fear that after SpaceX succeeds (and I think they will succeed with Mars missions), the bureaucracy will take over and we'll have to wait another 30-100 years for another big leap.

Sorry for the long post.



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Dec 8, 2019
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Pahrump, Nevada
If Space X can turn a profit I think more companies or individuals might risk some money. If by some wild chance they discover Moon gold or Mars diamonds or anything that has high value on earth it would be a free for all to get to space. Asteroid mining is going to be where it's at.