@Jack.Penn · Posted 30 Aug. 2021
@Frank.Lucas · Updated 30 Aug. 2021
It's not the same thing; their roles are entirely different. Sometimes their paths cross and they collaborate. Rockets are not launched or built by NASA. The United States has always used private launch companies to loft the payloads, and private companies to build the payloads, whether it was the Mercury capsule in 1961, the Apollo capsule in 1971, shuttles in 1981, or the Dragon capsule in 2011.
Space exploration is the responsibility of NASA, which develops and implements technologies to advance our knowledge of our solar system. NASA has a number of different laboratories and centers dedicated to different areas. For example, the Johnson Space Flight Center (JSC) concentrates on human spaceflight, while the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) concentrates on robotic missions, deep space communication, and telemetry. In fact, each of the centers works together on complex missions like sending humans to the Moon or Mars, but each will have its own special projects: JPL didn't have anything to do with the space shuttle program, and JSC was not involved in robotic Mars landers. As a government agency, NASA receives funding and orders from the US Congress.
A private launch services company based in the Los Angeles area, SpaceX was formed in May 2002 and incorporated in California, with the company headquarters and manufacturing facilities located in the city of Hawthorne. The company builds rockets and spacecraft then does business with paying customers to make a profit.
SpaceX manufactures and launches rockets. They make their own delivery vans, so they can deliver items efficiently. NASA conducts research in aeronautics and aerospace, builds space probes, operates deep space communication systems, and runs vast research labs. NASA does not do anything similar to what the organization does. NASA is unable to launch satellites or deliver payloads to the ISS with rockets. It's Mars that holds the biggest prize. There are separate plans for getting to Mars from NASA and SpaceX.
NASA is SpaceX's largest customer right now. SpaceX was able to survive and progress during those long years when the Falcon wasn't flying, was struggling through its flight tests, etc. once NASA was persuaded that SpaceX wasn't a fly-by-night company and had talent & potential on its team. It remains to be resolved some of the basic differences. In the wake of an explosion, while fueling an unmanned rocket last year, a NASA safety team has raised some concerns about SpaceX's plans to send humans onboard its rockets. Any future disaster with SpaceX can have a greater impact on the exploration of space.