I’ve been obsessed w/ space exploration since I was very young. Though not a Trekkie, I watched quite a bit of Star Trek and grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy. Hoping to one day pilot the Millennium Falcon, or at least be a passenger, I was thrilled to learn about the first X-Prize several years back, w/ Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites eventually claiming it. This month, the ever-excellent Wired Magazine has a great cover story and some sidebar articles on the new private space race. It focuses mostly on Elon Musk’s SpaceX and it’s efforts to create the new rocket to carry stuff and, eventually, people into space. It’s not Han Solo’s ship, but the Falcon is poised to fill in the gap when the shuttle is phased out by 2010 and it’s NASA-built replacement won’t be ready until 2015.
Musk’s efforts together with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin project, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic (which will employ Rutan’s designs) and several other billionaire-driven projects mean that a lot of money and brainpower are going into figuring out how to get people and stuff into space for as cheaply as possible. In other words, focusing on short-term, achievable goals rather than the Grand Vision for space approach that has held sway at NASA for decades. Indeed, with NASA still thinking like the bureaucratic behemoth it is, it’s good to know that these lean competitors are doing their best to get folks like you and me to the final frontier and beyond.