Shortly after the final space-shuttle mission in 2012, an eccentric entrepreneur named Elon Musk appeared on CBS’s “60 Minutes” and made the case for exploring outer space. America was still recovering from the Great Recession; Occupy Wall Street had flared months earlier; and Washington was focused on the Arab Spring, a war in Syria and a new supreme leader of North Korea.
Heading back to space seemed outlandish, maybe even wasteful, and astronauts Gene Cernan and Neil Armstrong were skeptical of the private-sector approach. But Mr. Musk said he hoped his startup might get Americans excited about space once again. “We’re a little scrappy company,” he said of SpaceX, which had launched several rockets. “But every now and again, a scrappy little company wins.”