Relatively little tax money has gone toward actually building newly developed equipment. Most of the time, the government doesn’t build. It buys. By creating a market for the new aviation industry, Congress took the economy airborne. It funded an experiment to prove whether planes were practical for more than warfare. As a result, aviation would boost the American economy and help define the American century.
No wonder NASA saw contracts as an important part of its catalyst role. If the twentieth century was about private aviation, the twenty-first would be about private space. In both cases, government would be on the extreme ends: the leading edge of science and technology, and the back end of contracts and catalysis. Elon Musk himself argues that NASA’s budget should be at least double what it is today, as “life insurance” against human extinction. Meanwhile, Musk is still planning a SpaceX Mars landing, in hopes it will inspire more national support for space. In other words, he envisions a public-private partnership.