Spaceflight has always been fascinating, exciting and something that has captured the attention of the average man since the space race commenced in 1955. But only 547 people have ever travelled into space, making it something that the average person dreams of but never entertains as reality. It’s more the realm of NASA astronauts, Russian cosmonauts and space chimpanzees.
News of advancements, crashes and billions of dollars invested in private space travel are splashed across the news, but will it ever be an option to make it into space in your lifetime? Is it really a reality we can expect in our lifetimes or is it strictly he domain of the rich boys and their toys?
Until 1984 space travel had been the realm of government run space agencies, such as NASA, however laws were passed by senate to deregulate the industry allowing private companies to make their own launches. This saw several companies in the United States and Europe sending payloads into space on behalf of NASA, and this was how modern private space travel opened the doors to the public.
Launching humans into space wasn’t on the radar until recently when we started to see private space flights taking place for the mega rich courtesy of the Russian space agency. Denis Tito, a 61 year old Californian former NASA engineer, was the first private tourist to venture into space along with two Russian cosmonauts when they launched from Khazakstan for a trip to the international space station. Tito paid $20 million for the honor, and his trip was met with many concerns about the safety issues he could cause by riding along – but he made it in the end.
Commercial Space Flight – The Beginnings
With space travel now deregulated and free for private companies to send cargo into space, private flights for humans were the next big challenge on the radar. In 2004 a company won the $10 million X Prize by launching their craft, SpaceShipOne, into orbit. The competition rules stated the craft needed to be capable of carrying human passengers (though none were on board). This impressive achievement attracted the attention of Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic, who arranged to fund the launch of the next vehicle (to be an ill fated test flight 10 years later). Since this point in time the modern day private space race has commenced.
Big Companies with Big Goals
Huge investment has flooded into the private space tourism and cargo industry along with some major brain power. Space X already operates with cargo in space, their ultimate goal is enabling people to live on other planets. The hugely publicized Virgin Galactic, founded by Richard Branson, has the aim of creating a Spaceline for Earth the democratizes access to space for the benefit of life on earth. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos founded Blue Origin as a space tourism business in 2010, but it has since reverted to producing rocket engines. Larry Page and Eric Schmidt from Google are backers of Planetary Sciences, a group which plans to mine asteroids for precious metals – truly the realm of science fiction films. The biggest minds and the biggest wallets have been drawn into space travel, the question just remains – when will it be feasible for humans to travel safely and affordably?