It’s difficult to exaggerate the importance of what Elon Musk’s SpaceX corporation did a few days ago when it launched a space ship that docked with the international space station. It is as significant, in its way, as the first commercial airline flight in the U.S. which was undertaken in 1914 by the St. Petersburg-Tampa Air Boat Line. It heralds the moment when space flight is moving out of the domain of government and into the private sector, potentially opening vast new vistas of travel.
There are, to be sure, significant differences between the history of flight inside the Earth’s atmosphere and outside of it. The former was, from the start, a private undertaking launched not by the Theodore Roosevelt administration but by the Wright Brothers, a pair of bicycle mechanics. The latter was, famously, a NASA mission undertaken beginning in 1958 by an Eisenhower administration eager to match Soviet achievements in space. But aviation, too, received a significant boost from the government–aircraft design took a major leap forward because of the efforts of various air forces to build more efficient aircraft in World War I and thereafter, commercial airlines developed either under state ownership (as in Europe with the forerunners of British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, etc.) or with major state subsidies (as was the case in the U.S. where the Postal Service paid airlines to carry the mail).