Elon Musk's new spacecraft, the Dragon, should revolutionize American space exploration.

Commentaries on economics and technology.
Jan. 20 2011 5:18 PM

Enter the Dragon

How the Dragon, a new privately funded spacecraft, should revolutionize American space exploration.

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These companies aren't all competing to build precisely the same kind of vehicle. In fact, each considers its own approach superior. This kind of redundancy is actually efficient in the long run, as each player experiments and all of them learn from everyone's failures and successes. In the meantime, each of them is competing not for a single grand prize but for a share of a growing market, risking investors' money and their own reputations.

It is this free-market economy, which rewards useful innovation and purposeful risk-taking, that we should honor and recognize. The U.S. government (or European governments, for that matter) can't get us out of our current economic mess any better than they can get us to the moon at this point. In most areas of endeavor, the government should be a demanding customer rather than a provider (or subsidizer).

In the United States, government fostered the airline business—largely by buying cargo services from private airlines. It also built what became the Internet—and then sensibly left most of the development and day-to-day operations to the private sector.

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Now, under Obama's new and sensible space policy, the U.S. government is planning to focus on flying to Mars and so-called "near-Earth objects,"  purchasing routine transportation to the International Space Station from companies such as SpaceX (instead of from the Russian space program at $60 million or so per astronaut for every round trip). What the Dragon moment makes clear is that the ability to commercialize innovation, not just to create it, is what has made the U.S. economy so robust over the long run.

This article comes from Project Syndicate.

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Esther Dyson, chairman of EDventure Holdings, is an active investor in a variety of start-ups around the world. Her interests include information technology, health care, private aviation, and space travel.