NASA vs SpaceX – What’s the difference?

Since the development of space travel, only three countries have launched a human into space.

  • The first was Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who orbited the Earth in the Vostok 1 spacecraft on April 12, 1961.
  • Only weeks later, the US launched their first human into space, Alan Shepard, abroad the Freedom 7.
  • It wouldn’t be until 2003 that China would launch its first man into space. The Shenzhou 5 spacecraft successfully took astronaut Yang Liwei on a 21-hour mission to space and back.

With revitalized space programs and private sector’s space aspirations, developments over the next few years might just make space great again.

In this article, I’ll compare a veteran space program with a relatively new kid on the block.

NASA vs. SpaceX.

I’ll start with brief history of each program.


NASA, or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, was created in 1958 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act. According to the act, NASA’s space exploration would forever be “devoted to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind.”

On July 20, 1969, NASA iconized space travel when it launched the Apollo 11 into space and made the first successful moon landing.


SpaceX, created by multitalented tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, was founded on May 6, 2002. Musk’s mission is to eventually colonize Mars, has stated on numerous occasions that human extinction on planet Earth is inevitable.

Colonization of Mars

SpaceX is, of course, a ways away from achieving this goal. SpaceX hasn’t yet launched flesh and blood into space. It intends to do so in the second quarter of the coming year. Musk has also said that by 2024, SpaceX will have completed a manned mission to Mars.

Elon Musk

Moreover, Elon Musk has boldly proclaimed that in 50 years’ time, his company’s interplanetary Transport System will be delivering up to a million people to the Mars Colony. Musk may seem overly ambitious compared to NASA, whose website states that it won’t be until the 2030s until its sending people to the Red Planet.

Does this mean NASA and SpaceX are competitors?

In some ways yes, as NASA is a government agency and SpaceX is a private entity. The media has referred to this competition as the first public-private space race. The phrase was dubbed, however, not because of Mars ambitions, but after SpaceX announced in 2017 it will be taking people around the moon in 2018. The main difference is that they would not only be trained astronauts but extremely wealthy space tourists.

Space Tourism

NASA had before this announcement made it known that it too would take tourists around the moon, but not until 2019.

NASA Vs SpaceX – Technology and Funding

Who has the most funding and who owns the more advanced technology to make space tourism happen?

In terms of the balance sheet, SpaceX raised over $1 billion in funding in 2015 with 11 investors taking part. Elon Musk himself is worth over 17 billion dollars. The tech maverick has his hand in many pots, including his venture into the self-driving car market with his Tesla Motors company.

How does SpaceX actually make money?

  • The answer is sending commercial satellites into space. According to the investor analysis media Motley Fool, SpaceX charges around $62 million per launch.
  • SpaceX charges the government around $20 million dollars every time it sends supplies to the International Space Station or launches satellites for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Funding for NASA

Over the years, NASA has suffered from underfunding, which is one of the reasons why progress regarding the exploration of space has been ponderous since the moon landing.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Illinois, U.S. September 7, 2018. REUTERS/John Gress – RC1B8CB43D70

In 2016, President Barack Obama bolstered NASA’s ambitions with an increased budget of around half a billion dollars, bringing the total budget to around 19 billion dollars. This was good news for NASA, spurring its administrator, Charlie Bolden, to announce publicly, “NASA is firmly on a journey to Mars. Make no mistake, this journey will help guide and define our generation.”

Setbacks for NASA

NASA has had plenty of setbacks besides underfunding. This includes the loss of two of its space shuttles in 1986 and 2003. Fourteen astronauts were killed in total, which didn’t help NASA’s ambitions.

Missions By NASA

  • NASA has launched well over 100 crewed missions to space and over one thousand unmanned missions. NASA’s last manned space shuttle launch was with its Space Transportation System in 2011.
  • Astronauts or Cosmonauts travel on the Soyuz Russian Aircrafts to get to the International Space Station and back down to Earth.
  • Currently, NASA is not sending humans into space, although running the space station and most space-related activities are a collaboration between NASA, Russia, and other countries.
  • NASA had originally said it would again be sending humans into space in 2021 abroad. However, that date has repeatedly been moved forward to 2019.
  • Perhaps NASA’s greatest recent success was the 2011 launch of its planetary rover and the current work it does on Mars. Named the Curiosity, the rover is five times larger than previous rovers that were sent to explore the Red Planet.

Difference between an astronaut and a cosmonaut

You might also be asking yourself, what is the difference between an astronaut and a cosmonaut? The answer is not much;

  • Astronauts are trained and certified through NASA and other countries’ space programs.
  • Cosmonauts are trained solely through Russia’s space program.

NASA Vs SpaceX – Recent Developments and An Inventory of Rocket Stock.

SpaceX – Falcon Heavy

SpaceX greatest creation so far is its Falcon Heavy large payload rocket which was launched in September 2017. The rocket was designed to carry people, and it was with this rocket that SpaceX saw the future.

SpaceX – Dragon Capsule

SpaceX also has a free-flying spacecraft called Dragon, which was the first commercial spacecraft ever launched by a private company. It currently only carries cargo. SpaceX believes it will be ready for human space travel by as early as 2020. The Dragon can be carried on the Falcon heavy rocket, or on SpaceX’s other rocket, Falcon 9.

NASA – Voyager 2

NASA’s space probe, Voyager, reached the outer planets of Jupiter and Saturn. 39 years later, it’s still out there navigating interstellar space.

Voyager 2 was launched soon after and was the first spacecraft to rub shoulders with Uranus and Neptune.

Voyager 2

NASA – Juno Probe

NASA currently has a space probe, Juno. It is currently orbiting Jupiter. Another record was broken in 2015 when NASA’s New Horizons space probe did a fly-by of the Pluto system. Traveling at over 36,000 miles per hour, it made history when it came within 6,000 miles of Pluto. The journey was astounding 3 billion miles.

NASA’s Recent Development

  • NASA’s current biggest development is the Orion launch, which will take four astronauts beyond the moon, according to NASA.
  • Other main developments are related to research abroad the International Space Station, global aviation, and emerging technologies such as robotics.

NASA has achieved truly incredible things, but will the organization have to move over for Elon Musk’s amazing spacecraft technologies?

Some critics believe America is big enough for two space programs, public and private. And there’s enough room on the moon for two future landings. Others have suggested NASA should keep its focus on exploring deep space, while manned space travel and the possibility of a human colony on Mars should be handled by other agencies.

How do you think these two programs should move into the future?

Should NASA and SpaceX share the same space, or should each know its own place?

Let me know in the comments!

About Me

I’m Kaushal Jaiswal Founder of Cameo Dreams. The best Educational and Professional Website Because It “Connects Million’s Of Community To Best Things Available On The Internet”.

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43 Responses

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    NASA & SpaceX should continue to be partners as long as NASA really learns & takes their head out of the sand when it comes to reusable technology. That means NASA really needs to be separated like the DOT from regular government funding & put on a ten or twenty year funding basis & not beholding to any one administration or party. As long as politicians have their hand in the funding & will only grant money if their state or special interest like a major manufacturer be involved there is really no future for Space Travel from the Government sector…

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