On Monday, SpaceX, the California-based private space exploration company started by PayPal and Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk, agreed to take over the management and maintenance of Launch Pad 39A from NASA for the next 20 years. The pad at the Kennedy Space Center is best known for being the blast off point of the Apollo missions to the moon and of the more than one hundred flights of NASA’s space shuttle.
Launch Pad 39A sent its first spacecraft skyward in 1967. More than 45 years later, it costs NASA roughly $100,000 per month to maintain, an extravagant expense considering the government agency folded its Space Shuttle Program after 30 years in 2011. Musk’s firm beat out Blue Origin, which is owned by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, largely because it has spacecraft, such as its Falcon 9 rocket, that are already ready to take off. In fact, SpaceX's Falcon 9, is scheduled to launch on Friday, beginning a trip to deliver its Dragon resupply capsule, with more than 4,500 pounds of gear onboard, to the International Space Station (ISS).
The takeover of Launch Pad 39A is the latest move in the transition of space exploration from the domain of NASA to that of private companies. What began more than a decade ago as a few billionaires hitching rides to the ISS has become a booming industry dedicated to picking up where NASA left off.
Research and text by Gavin McIntyre
Tune in to the latest episode of Fault Lines, “Space, Inc,” premiering Saturday, April 19, at 7p ET. It will air again on Al Jazeera America Saturday at 10p ET and Sunday, April 20, at 2a ET.