From the X Prize to civilian trips to the moon, private spaceflight is attracting more interest among investors and would-be voyagers.
The first humans to take a swing around the moon in more than 35 years may not be NASA astronauts, but space tourists.
That is Eric Anderson's vision. The president and CEO of Space Adventures – the company that has sent five well-heeled tourists to the International Space Station since February 2001 – says he already has his first two passengers, each willing to pay $100 million for a ride around the moon aboard a modified Russian spacecraft. If negotiations go well, the launch could take place in "a small number of years," he says.
Such grand plans from outside the major aerospace players might have been dismissed as wishful thinking a few years ago. Then, much of what passed for an alternative spaceflight industry existed largely as PowerPoint presentations and high hopes. Now, entrepreneurs' shop floors hum with activity. Launches are taking place. Regulations are changing to meet the fledgling industry's needs. And while the industry has yet to see millions of dollars pour in from investment bankers and venture capitalists, these folks are turning out in far larger numbers than they once did at conferences and workshops, several industry analysts say.
Over the past several weeks, a handful of events and announcements highlight some of the buzz of activity:
•In late June, Bigelow Aerospace launched its second small-scale inflatable module aboard a Russian rocket. The module, Genesis 2, joins Genesis 1, which has been on orbit for a year. The company plans to launch a larger module next fall along the way to full-scale modules that humans can live and work in.