It was one small step for man, one giant leap for capitalism.

Only three countries have ever launched human beings into orbit. This past weekend, SpaceX became the first private company ever to do so, when it sent its Crew Dragon capsule into space aboard its Falcon 9 rocket and docked with the International Space Station. This was accomplished by a company Elon Musk started in 2002 in a California strip mall warehouse with just a dozen employees and a mariachi band.

At a time when our nation is debating the merits of socialism, SpaceX has given us an incredible testament to the power of American free enterprise. While the left is advocating unprecedented government intervention in almost every sector of the U.S. economy, from health care to energy, today Americans are celebrating the successful privatization of space travel.

If you want to see the difference between what government and private enterprise can do, consider: It took a private company to give us the first space vehicle with touch-screen controls instead of antiquated knobs and buttons. It took a private company to give us a capsule that can fly entirely autonomously from launch to landing — including docking — without any participation by its human crew. It also took a private company to invent a reusable rocket that can not only take off but land as well. When the Apollo 11 crew reached the moon on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong declared “the Eagle has landed.” On Saturday, SpaceX was able to declare that the Falcon had landed when its rocket settled down on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean — ready to be used again.

That last development will save the taxpayers incredible amounts of money. The cost to NASA for launching a man into space on the space shuttle orbiter was $170 million per seat, compared with just $60 million to $67 million on the Dragon capsule. The cost for the space shuttle to send a kilogram of cargo into to space was $54,500; with the Falcon rocket, the cost is just $2,720 — a decrease of 95 percent. And while the space shuttle cost $27.4 billion to develop, the Crew Dragon was designed and built for just $1.7 billion — making it the lowest-cost spacecraft developed in six decades. SpaceX did it in six yearsfar faster than the time it took to develop the space shuttle.

The private sector does it better, cheaper, faster and more efficiently than government. Why? Competition. Today, SpaceX has to compete with a constellation of private companies — including legacy aerospace firms such as Orbital ATK and United Launch Alliance and innovative start-ups such as Blue Origin (which is designing a Mars lander and whose owner, Jeff Bezos, also owns The Post) and Virgin Orbit (which is developing rockets than can launch satellites into space from the underside of a 747, avoiding the kinds of weather that delayed the Dragon launch). In the race to put the first privately launched man into orbit, upstart SpaceX had to beat aerospace behemoth Boeing and its Starliner capsule to the punch. It did so — for more than $1 billion less than its competitor.

That spirit of competition and innovation will revolutionize space travel in the years ahead. Indeed, Musk has his sights set far beyond Earth orbit. Already, SpaceX is working on a much larger version of the Falcon 9 reusable rocket called Super Heavy that will carry a deep-space capsule named Starship capable of carrying up to 100 people to the moon and eventually to Mars. Musk’s goal — the reason he founded SpaceX — is to colonize Mars and make humanity a multiplanetary species. He has set a goal of founding a million-person city on Mars by 2050 complete with iron foundries and pizza joints.

Can it be done? Who knows. But this much is certain: Private-sector innovation is opening the door to a new era of space exploration. Wouldn’t it be ironic if, just as capitalism is allowing us to explore the farthest reaches of our solar system, Americans decided to embrace socialism back here on Earth?

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