The news that both #NASA and SpaceX are contemplating sending crews on trips around the moon has sparked considerable excitement. The assumption among many people posting on social media is that the nimble, flexible #SpaceX is bound to beat NASA back to the moon. Indeed, perhaps the space agency should not even try and just accept that the future consists of outsourcing everything to the commercial sector. On the other hand, no one is asking the question of what happens if NASA wins the presumed race back to the moon.

While Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, is the cool kid of the aerospace world, he has begun rubbing people at NASA the wrong way, as an excellent analysis at Ars Technica points out.

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The space agency has paid SpaceX $3 billion to produce a commercial crew service, and so far it has not delivered, with the dates slipping steadily to the right of the timeline. Moreover, the Falcon 9 has endured two catastrophic accidents, the second of which trashed a launch pad,

From NASA’s point of view, SpaceX seems to be suffering from a touch of ADD. First came Musk’s grandiose vision of Mars colonies and a giant interplanetary space transport. Now he wants to establish a lunar tourist service, which may be a sensible way to generate another revenue stream but may have the effect of poaching NASA’s core business of deep space exploration.

Officially NASA and SpaceX are expressing mutual admiration. The space agency is even offering to help with Musk’s lunar voyage. But, there may be a hidden desire to clip Musk’s wings a little bit and force him to focus on his primary contract, providing a space taxi service to and from the International Space Station.

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What better way to humble Musk than to beat him back to the moon?

Musk is promising that he can pull off his lunar jaunt in 2018. Based on history, no one outside of SpaceX actually believes that is possible. That brings things to 2019, the year NASA is thinking of pulling off its lunar mission.

NASA remembers the thrill of beating the Soviets to the moon in 1969, something that has paid dividends ever since, though sadly not bigger budgets. SpaceX is a different opponent than the Russians, but from the perspective of the space agency is just as big of a threat. If NASA pulls off its lunar mission while SpaceX is stuck on the launch pad, it will have sent a message that space commercialization has its limits. Such a victory would be sweet to supporters of traditional space and as bitter gall and wormwood for commercial space advocates. For most people, however, any space race would be exciting and productive at the same time. #Space Race