With commercial space tourism, you could jet off to Jupiter as easily as Jamaica in the near future.
Since the first man set foot on the Moon in June 1969, humanity has had a fascination in repeating that journey to the far-flung edges of space. But in recent decades, activity by state-sponsored organizations like NASA and the European Space Agency has faltered and slowed. Some might even say it’s stalled on the launching pad.
However, just because official organizations haven’t contributed much to the space race in recent years, it doesn’t mean space-borne activity has stopped entirely. A range of private enterprises is aiming to pick up the pace and set their tracks on revolutionizing space exploration.
The companies are all backed by billionaires and act as an attempt to push the boundaries of where humankind can explore outer space. There’s Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, which sent its first crewed flight into space in mid-2021. Then there’s Virgin Galactic, run by Richard Branson, which has its own goals of making space tourism commercial.
SpaceX and space
Of course, no round-up of commercial private space flight is complete without a mention of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which is the biggest, brashest competitor of them all. While Richard Branson has a keen eye for press coverage, Musk’s company – and its founder – is almost perfectly engineered to get notoriety and controversial headlines, meaning that much of the progress that has been made in the private space has come from, and been focused on, SpaceX.
Good Evening. It's Launch Day!undefined SpaceXUpdates (@SpaceXUpdates) April 10, 2019
Welcome to the second flight of the Falcon Heavy! The first took place just over 14 months ago, sending Elon's Tesla Roadster and Starman to a Mars-crossing orbit.#Arabsat6A #FalconHeavy #SpaceX pic.twitter.com/59orbeJCyU
The battle of the billionaires has, at times, been personal, with insults bandied about between Musk, Branson, and Bezos about each other’s space prowess. The battle has been particularly snippy between the Tesla CEO and former Amazon founder, with each trying to vie for supremacy over space.
The reasons that all three firms are trying so hard to crack space flight and exploration are obvious: whether it’s in contracts to service government-backed space flights, or the opportunity to provide flights for paying customers and tourists, the potential financial returns of being the go-to company when it comes to space flight could be enormous. Whoever wins could end up making billions from being able to send people into and back from space.
Collateral cosmic damage
But there’s more to this than a squabble over who gets to claim the rights to be first – even if it looks like SpaceX has the most significant steps towards success with its repeated launches over the last few years. There are other issues that can be caused by the race between private companies trying to exert their position in outer space.
For one thing, the race to space is seeing huge amounts of junk being deposited there. Every flight leaves behind some waste that then orbits for eternity, making future flights more precarious as they have to duck and dive behind and between space junk. It’s a concern that should worry us all, given the high-risk nature of space exploration.
That said, there’s plenty to be excited about when it comes to the future of space. For the first time in decades, there’s an impetus to the idea of space exploration – a recapturing of the spirit that we once had in the early days of space flight. Driven by a desire to be the best, companies are starting to compete with each other in a way that helps bring benefits to us all – even if there are risks and rubbish involved.
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