Children born today will grow up wanting to become doctors, firefighters, policemen, and … corporate astronauts?
Yes, truly, gone are the days in which government-driven space exploration alone will take us beyond our imaginations and to a galaxy far, far away. And yes, that is a good thing!
Many have cried out in protest over the decommissioning of NASA's shuttle program in early 2012 and have heralded many budget cuts as the demise of man’s expansion into the galaxy. Despite this outcry, there lies evidence that there is more hope than ever for our children to become the next generation of explorers to expand the boundaries of man's reach.
In fact, in the spot left open by NASA, there now are dozens of burgeoning space companies vying for the opportunity to fill the government agency's shoes. NASA has already given a $1.2 billion contract to SpaceX to use their Dragon spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station, and could soon ferry astronauts at a much lower cost than using Russia's space shuttle to do the same job. NASA has also started a $1.9 billion partnership with another rocket company, Orbital Sciences, in an effort to create a robust and competitive space industry.
Commercial spaceflight is also coming into its own — most notably, with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. In fact, the private space company performed a landmark test flight of its SpaceShipTwo space plane yesterday, lighting up the craft's rocket motor in flight for the first time. This marks another major milestone for Virgin as the company is planning to launch its first suborbital SpaceShipTwo flights by the end of this year. And for those who can shell out $200,000 a head, passenger flights are slated to begin in 2014.
Also, amazingly, plans are moving forward to lasso an asteroid and pull it closer to Earth, so astronauts may visit it by 2025. This has provided a huge boost to asteroid mining companies like Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources as they attempt to develop viable means of extracting water, precious metals like platinum, and other valuable resources from space rocks.
Some visionaries want to escape the bonds of government-funded spaceflight. And, Netherlands-based nonprofit, Mars One, has a novel idea to do just that by privately funding a manned colony on Mars.
The venture plans to cover the estimated one-way, $6 billion cost by creating a global reality television show depicting the selection of the initial astronauts and the crew's first years on Mars and selling corporate sponsorships and the broadcasting rights to the series. After pre-screening the astronaut candidates, viewers would even be able to help select the crew.
Mars One co-founder Bas Lansdorp has said that, "[The idea] was triggered when I saw the revenue figures of the International Olympic Committee ... After that we talked to many different experts in the field, all of whom are convinced the media value is far greater than the cost associated with our mission to Mars."
All this only represents a few of the dozens of private space companies and bold, new ideas now getting off the ground. Truthfully, the growth of the private space industry has been quite dramatic in the past few years, and it'll only increase its pace once these markets take hold.
As with any start-up technology industry, the space market and its technologies are developing rapidly, and often in unpredictable ways. While private-sector space ventures were once considered implausible, they are now becoming the norm. Whether it is in transportation, research, exploration, resource mining, tourism, or even the colonization of other planets, the private sector has a key role to play in mankind’s efforts to expand its presence and knowledge beyond Earth.