…for the successful SpaceX mission to the ISS, and the subsequent safe return of the crew to Earth. In the past, I have often expressed my annoyance over the uncritical, gushing praise too often lavished on Space Capitalism, although in this case it appears fully justified.
No, I’ve never doubted private enterprise could do the job, after all, every space mission ever mounted by the West has been carried out by private firms; planned and funded, of course, by public money. But it could be argued that those projects were overseen, and the specifications set, by NASA or some other government organization. The private contribution was just that of a highly supervised subcontractor.
In this case, the government has gone to a private space service provider and contracted the use of a privately developed system. Sure, it is a system that would not exist without a pre-existing paying government customer, (and a lot of government-provided infrastructure) but that is nit-picking. The Dragon system works well, and presumably it is cheaper and simpler than the NASA alternative. They have proved their case, as well as the general concept and it is a very good day for the American space effort.
But the government still has a role. In addition to being the main paying customer, it must also provide the conditions that enable redundancy and robustness–multiple competing private launch services. Without that, we may soon find ourselves with just another bloated, ineffective, taxpayer-subsidized monopoly that will fail precisely when we need it most.