Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Is Space Tourism the New Space Race?

Fifty years after the Soviet Union beat the United States to send the first human to space, a new space race is heating up. This time, the players are not nations — rather, they're commercial companies that aim to send the first paying passengers to space on private spaceships. "It's an exciting time for the industry," said George Whitesides, president of suborbital spaceship company Virgin Galactic. "I really believe that we're at the edge of an extraordinary period of innovation which will radically change our world."

If Virgin and other companies succeed, space could soon become one more conquered frontier, with rocket rides to space becoming as accessible as plane rides across the Atlantic. "We're just about to the point where low-Earth orbit really ought to be considered part of our normal regime," said Roger Launius, a space history curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. But while we may be nearing a tipping point where access to space expands widely beyond the select few who've left Earth to date, Launius and others caution that it's not a done deal yet.

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