When you think about cutting-edge spaceflight in 2018, SpaceX is probably the first name that comes to mind. If you're a wonk, maybe Orbital ATK, or Blue Origin, owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. What you're probably not thinking of is NASA.

NASA was established by the federal government during the Cold War to project American prestige and beat the Soviets, all in the name of space science. But the agency’s image peaked around the time Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon, and its image fell victim to a series of failed space missions, deep funding cuts to research, and changing political will.

For over a decade, NASA has been steadily ceding exploration of the cosmos to for-profit companies, its public profile fading with each new SpaceX launch.

But without NASA, America’s private space industry probably wouldn't have gotten off the ground in the first place.

VICE News spoke with Dennis Stone, one of the founding members of NASA’s commercial investment program, to learn the story behind the agency’s success in backing private spaceflight.

Illustration and animation by Joel Plosz.

This segment originally aired July 25, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.