The phrase ‘Space Race’ once conjured images of the battle between the United States and the Soviet Union to put the first men on the moon – a battle that the United States famously won in 1969.
Fast-forward five decades and astronauts around the world have been able to make it into outer space, though space travel itself is still reserved only for those who have been put through extensive education and training. However, that could all be about to change.
In the 21st century, the focus isn’t on simply exploring and researching space, but on making space travel accessible to everybody – and, within the future, making it possible for humans to colonise other planets within our solar system.
Unlike the Space Race of the 1960s, however, the 21st century is not between different governments – this Space Race is a battle between some of the world’s richest individuals.
Here’s everything that you need to know about the Billionaire Space Race, including what we can expect next.
Who Are The Key Players Within The Billionaire Space Race?
Whilst they are likely not the only figures researching civilian space travel, they are certainly the three most famous – and perhaps the most likely to get there first.
The key players within this futuristic space race are Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Virgin founder Richard Branson and Tesla founder Elon Musk, all looking to develop the means for regular people (or, at least, non-astronauts) to experience space travel.
Jeff Bezos, having now stepped down as Amazon’s CEO, has vowed to spend more time focussing his efforts on his space travel company Blue Origins, whilst Elon Musk is completing his research with SpaceX. Richard Branson, meanwhile, has added a new branch to the Virgin brand in the form of Virgin Galactic.
What Are The Goals Of The Billionaire Space Race?
Whilst the goals of these three figures do vary in some ways, Bezos, Branson and Musk all ultimately wish to make space travel more accessible to the masses, launching us into an age of space tourism – something which was previously a distant dream.
Bezos and Branson appear to be focussing their efforts on this goal exclusively, with both looking to create the means for civilian space travel to become simply the next big branch of the tourism sector. If all goes well as far as Blue Origins and Virgin Galactic are concerned, space travel may one day be as accessible as regular airline travel, with everyone eligible to blast off into the atmosphere.
Elon Musk, however, wishes to take things even further. Having launched SpaceX in 2002, the company has sought to reduce space transportation costs, though not simply to normalise space tourism – Musk’s ultimate goal is for humans to colonise Mars.
Having spoken about this mission multiple times in the past, Musk has invested in research into every aspect of the project, from the conditions required for humans to survive on the planet as it stands to the possibility that nuclear missiles may assist in creating an Earth-like atmosphere on the planet. Musk believes that colonisation could be achieved on The Red Planet within decades.
What Has Happened So Far?
Whilst each of the billionaires have been involved in such research for a number of years – Blue Origins was founded in 2000, whilst SpaceX and Virgin Galactic were founded in 2002 and 2004 respectively – their race to space has picked up a great deal of traction within the last year.
After plenty of speculation between which of the rivals would make it to space first, Richard Branson famously became the first of the three to embark on a journey into space last week. However, there has since been debate over whether or not his journey – which was technically to the ‘edge of space’ – truly counts as space travel.
What’s Next In The Billionaire Space Race?
Jeff Bezos is set to blast off for Blue Origins’ first flight on 20th July. Unlike Branson’s first journey with Virgin Galactic, the craft will be unpiloted, with Bezos accompanied by his brother Mark Bezos, 82-year-old former trainee of the abandoned Women In Space program Wally Funk and 18-year-old Oliver Daemon. The latter two passengers will become the oldest and youngest people to fly into space respectively.
Following his first journey into space, Branson has already announced plans to do so again – in fact, over 600 tickets for future Virgin Galactic flights have already been sold, including one to space race rival Elon Musk. The tickets are priced at £180,000, with a required deposit of £10,000.
As for Elon Musk and SpaceX, Musk has announced that the company will aim to embark on their first manned flights to Mars in 2026. Unlike Branson and Bezos’ first flights, however, SpaceX’s first flight to Mars is set to be a one-way trip, with no current plans for those who make it onto the flight to return to Earth. Despite such high stakes, however, over 200,000 people applied to be one of the first humans on Mars – at the most recent report, just 660 applicants remained.
Whatever happens, one thing is for sure – we could be packing our bags for space vacations very, very soon.