I spent Thursday evening with about 200 people who want nothing more than to fly into outer space.
The event was at the Proud Bird restaurant at the tip of Los Angeles International Airport, sponsored by the Space Tourism Society.
One focus of the evening was to acknowledge Dennis Tito, who ten years to the day became the first paying citizen to hitch a ride on a rocket to the International Space Station, in 2001 (A Space Odyssey).
Tito is a hero in this crowd, in a similar way that Yuri Gagarin was the first man to fly into outer space in 1961. That was the beginning of human space flight. Tito marked the beginning of space tourism.
He paid a reported $20 million to ride aboard a Russian rocket and spend 8 days as a space station crew member. Six more paying passengers have followed in his footsteps, including the first woman to do so, Anousheh Ansari. One of them, Charles Simonyi, has flown twice.
Tito, now age 70, in 1972 founded Wilshire Associates, a provider of investment management and consulting services. He spoke at last night’s event and said his trip 221 miles up “achieved my life’s dream of 40 years.”
The flights were coordinated through Space Adventures, which announced that it has booked a flight to send someone around the moon and back. The project remains in stealth mode but you can bet it will happen someday.
To many this is pie-in-the-sky stuff strictly for the space geek at heart (like me). In reality, it’s serious business and many space entrepreneurs have spent millions of their own money to prove it.
Perhaps best known is Elon Musk, who acknowledged to me in an interview once that he put up $100 million of his own cash to launch SpaceX, in Los Angeles, which now employs 1,300. The company has been a wild success building and launching rockets into orbit. It recently unveiled Falcon Heavy, which will be the largest rocket ever built. Last week SpaceX announced a $75 million NASA contract, one of several it has received as part of plans that include replacing the space shuttle for the delivery of cargo and astronauts to the space station.
Musk is also founder of electric car company Tesla Motors. He made his millions building Internet companies, including PayPal.
Another is Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who is building space ships at his company Blue Origin.
Another is John Carmack, a game developer who is building rockets at Armadillo Aerospace.
Another is Bigelow Aerospace, founded by real estate tycoon Robert Bigelow. It is building expandable space stations that can be used for research or tourist vacations.
Another is Virgin Galactic, founded by Richard Branson. Next year it plans to send its first paying customers into space on a futuristic craft designed by Burt Rutan. It’s a $200,000 ticket and last night I spoke to two women who have put a down payment for the trip.
One of them looked to be in her late 60s. I asked her why she was going and her answer was simply that she wanted to enjoy the adventure. Another woman with a reservation, about age 37, in her life had applied four times to be an astronaut. She didn’t get accepted and figures that flying aboard SpaceShipTwo was her way of finally reaching that goal. Virgin Galactic has 410 reservations booked thus far.
On top of that, there are several professional organizations whose mission it is to bring space flight to the common people. They include the National Space Society, the Space Frontier Foundation and the 62 Mile Club – 62 miles being the closest edge of space.
There are two opportunities here. One is launching satellites into space and for trips to the space station and, possibly, the moon. That’s a multi-billion dollar business right there.
The other is space tourism. How large that will be is anyone’s guess though some say it will also be a multibillion dollar business.
So, the next time someone says to you they want to take a trip to outer space, don’t act like that is where their head is right now.
Elon Musk, will tell you his dream is to make it possible for us to become a spacefaring society. While that may seem a little far out right now, humanity never would have colonized the world were it not for a few people willing to boldly go where no one has gone before.
So rock-it on!
Strength & honor,