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What Does SpaceX and NASA’s Partnership Really Mean?

June 3, 2020

What Does SpaceX and NASA’s Partnership Really Mean?

NASA and SpaceX successfully launched a space flight on May 30. What does their partnership and the privatization of space exploration mean for the future?

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Exploring The Infinite with SpaceX and NASA

NASA and SpaceX launched a space flight on May 30, marking the first launch of a manned space flight from U.S. soil with an American crew in nearly a decade. This launch provides a turning point in space exploration as NASA begins to partner with private companies for NASA’s next act in space. Watch the video and answer the discussion questions. The video has been edited for length. To watch the video in its entirety or read the transcript, click here.

  • SpaceX’s partnership and contract with NASA differs from previous missions since SpaceX gets to retain ownership of their intellectual property while NASA gets transportation to Lower Earth Orbit (LEO = altitude of 1,200 miles or less to Earth; most of the manmade objects in outer space, i.e. satellites, are in LEO) for a fixed price. 
  • The partnership met with strong opposition from astronauts and some politicians who feared commercialization and reckless decisions being made in the name of innovation.
  • According to supporters, however, privatization of some of NASA’s projects allows for enormous savings and reinvigorates the agency’s mission.

SpaceX and NASA: Discussion Questions

  1. Essential question: Should space exploration be privatized? Why or why not? What are some of the potential advantages or disadvantages?
  2. How has the privatization of space exploration changed the way NASA operates? 
  3. Do you see Elon Musk’s SpaceX as an important positive step in space exploration? Explain. 
  4. Would you like to travel to space? Why or why not?
  5. Media literacy: Why do you think SpaceX employees including Elon Musk were not interviewed for the story? Do you think their voices were necessary? 
  6. If there is time: Show your students the revolutionary launch here

Extension Activities

The Trump administration has prioritized space travel, establishing the Space Force as a new branch of the Air Force and proposing an increased budget for NASA despite recommending dramatic cuts for other federal agencies. 

  • Ask your students: Should space exploration be a greater or lesser priority for the U.S.? What are some of the potential benefits for American citizens and companies in providing more resources to space agencies such as NASA?

PBS NewsHour Classroom

PBS NewsHour Classroom helps teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories.

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