Boldly go where no one has gone
That line is from Star Trek. And with the launch this week into space of Captain Kirk, played by actor William Shatner, the number of men (and women) leaving Earth is rising at a rapid clip. At 90 years of age, Mr. Shatner became the oldest person ever in space.
The private space tourism industry is heating up with several players all vying for top-dog status.
Virgin Galactic (NYSE: SPCE) was the first to launch tourists into space doing so in early July just days before Jeff Bezos in his Blue Origin craft named the New Shepard. Rounding out the big 3 is SpaceX headed by Elon Musk who is also CEO of Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) and unlisted company Neuralink.
There has been no love lost between the 3 billionaires. After Branson went into space Bezos, via tweet, teased that he did not actually go into space because the rocket did not cross the Kármán line, which usually delineates the boundaries of space.
Bezos went higher but remained in sub-orbital space and so Musk in turn mocked Bezos. When NASA awarded the lunar lander contract to SpaceX Bezos sued. In an interview, Musk said about the lawsuit, “I think he should put more of his energy toward getting to orbit than on lawsuits. You cannot sue your way to the moon, no matter how good your lawyers are.” He then went on to comment on the shape and size of the Blue Origin rocket.
That comment, plus the actual appearance of Blue Origin’s rocket, may lead one to believe that this new space race is nothing more than a phallic competition between billionaires.
All jokes aside, that would be wrong on many counts. Musk is a big believer in settling Mars as a backup plan for human survival in the case of catastrophic climate change. Bezos has talked about mining asteroids for resources in the past.
It is clear that these companies have big plans not only for space tourism but for more serious businesses like putting satellites into orbit, shuttling people to space stations and later planets and mining resources from heavenly bodies.
By that measure, Space X is well ahead of the pack. Musk´s company has already flown many missions to put satellites into orbit and even sent astronauts to the International Space Station. One of the missions ended in a mishap that led to the destruction of a Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) satellite and a beef between the two founders. Neither of the other rocket companies has even sent one into orbit.
This is an interesting and emerging industry that may soon become affordable enough for mere millionaires to travel to suborbital space for fun as easily as they could charter a private jet. As long as the regulatory hurdles are met, and no major safety issue arises to scare potential customers, we may soon see a lot more men and women boldly going to space.