Posted On: 5th July 2012
In 2011, the United States ended its government-funded space shuttle program after 30 years of operation. Instead, they will rely on Russia’s space program or on private companies willing to invest in space travel. Private companies are already taking on the tasks of supplying the international space station, and will be responsible for mining operations and space tourism in the near future. This could potentially open up an entirely new industry which could help not only boost the world economy but ensure the long term future of life on this planet.
Though Americans have a nostalgic attachment to their space program, handing the many tasks over to private companies offer a number of practical advantages. Flights to and from the space station will cost less and require less oversight from government space agencies. Private companies will also be able to participate in research and development in microgravity. This could facilitate the work of industries like pharmaceuticals and materials science in space. Future companies involved in potential mining operations would also add to the scientific knowledge base as they collect samples and explore potential resources. Instead taxpayers being asked to foot the bill for research and development on programs, investors would take on the risk. Instead, the national space agencies could focus their attention on longer-term goals such as putting men on asteroids and ultimately sending them to Mars.
Much of the work of space missions in bringing supplies and equipment to the space station and carrying crews to and from Earth. These elemental transport tasks are well within the capability of private start-up space companies in the coming years, and competitive bidding will drive the price down so that ongoing trips to the station will be more cost effective.
Only a few ultra-rich individuals have been able to pay the enormous amounts required to take them to international space station. Virgin Galactic intends to offer flights just beyond the space barrier in a 2-1/2 hour jaunt that features 5 minutes of weightlessness are part of the experience. The trip will cost £250,000, which still appeals only to those with high incomes. Eventually, however, experts predict that a burgeoning space tourism industry will arise from competition of the industry.
In May of 2012, SpaceX, a private space company, successfully sent a capsule called the Dragon to the space station and back. It was the first time a private company worked in collaboration with the NASA to carry equipment to the station. Though a glitch occurred during the first launch attempt, it was quickly fixed and the mission went off without further problems. SpaceX expects to be carrying crews back and forth to the station by the year 2015. Another company called Planetary Resources is setting up business to do mining operations on asteroids in the future. Its investors expect to take the long view on profits as it will be many years before they can determine which asteroids offer the greatest opportunities for resources and ultimate profits.