Race begins to send space tourists, build lunar colonies
New Delhi, Aug 24 (IANS) Fifty years ago, when the first man walked on the Moon, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was not even born, Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos was just a five-year-old kid, and Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson was still a teenager. Today these tech entrepreneurs are leading the efforts to make space tourism a reality.
Talks of space tourism is, in fact, not new. Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic as the world's first commercial "spaceline", has been talking about it for couple of decades now. But with serious competition coming from the likes of Musk and Bezos, a trip to space on a commercial vehicle never looked so closer to reality as it is now.
If you still think it to be too far fetched an idea, consider this: Virgin Galactic has already received reservations from more than 600 people from 60 countries for places to fly on its aircraft WhiteKnightTwo and spacecraft SpaceShipTwo.
In May this year, Branson announced that Virgin Galactic's development and testing programme had advanced sufficiently to move the spaceline staff and space vehicles from Mojave, California to their commercial operations headquarters at Spaceport America, New Mexico. At a media event on August 15, company officials even showcased the spaceport's ability to handle flight operations.
While Virgin Galactic wants to give its customers "a unique, multi-day experience culminating in a personal spaceflight that includes out-of-seat zero gravity and views of Planet Earth from space", SpaceX late last year announced that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa had reserved seat for a trip around the Moon aboard its Starship rocket, formerly known as the Big Falcon Rocket, which is still being developed.
Maezawa's trip to the Moon, which is about 385,000 km away from Earth, is unlikely to take place before 2023.
Meanwhile, Bezos's Blue Origin, which aims to help people set up colonies on Moon and other planets, is preparing two rockets - New Shepard and New Glenn - for space tourism purposes.
In May this year, Bezos, who is the world's richest man, announced the Blue Moon lunar lander, which is capable of taking people and payloads to the lunar surface.
In fact, Blue Origin was one of the few companies that NASA selected for developing space technologies. The company earlier announced that it can help meet NASA's goal of putting Americans on the Moon by 2024.
The new age space race, thus, is quite different from the one that the Cold War triggered more than 50 years ago. When Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, his primary mission appeared to be carrying the American flag to the Earth's satellite in a bid to establish its superiority over rivals.
This time when NASA wants to return humans to the Moon, it wants them "to stay" and lay the groundwork for missions to Mars and beyond. Private companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin are taking interest in sending people to Moon as they want to set up a base camp there for further travel into the deep space.
Much of their efforts to offer people an out of the world experience, literally, by sending them to space is driven by commercial interest or childhood passion.
As Christian Davenport wrote in his book, "The Space Barons", "Their race to the stars was driven not by war or politics; rather by money and ego and adventure, a chance to extend humanity out into space for good."