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How the ultra-rich plan to conquer space (+video)

From asteroid mining to space station taxis, a handful of billionaires have big plans for the final frontier. 

By Mike WallSPACE.com / April 25, 2012

SpaceX's Falcon 9 is being readied for its debut flight in 2010. PayPal co-founder turned rocketeer Elon Musk has backed the venture.

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Four billionaires are backing a newly unveiled asteroid-mining venture, adding to an impressive list of ultra-rich people trying to reshape spaceflight and exploration in the 21st century.

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Larry Page, James Cameron, and others attempt to mine asteroids in deep space.

Planetary Resources, Inc. — which on Tuesday (April 24) officially revealed its plans to extract water and metals from near-Earth asteroids — counts Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, Ross Perot Jr. and Charles Simonyi among its investors.

Each man is worth $1 billion or more, according to recent estimates by Forbes magazine, with Google execs Page and Schmidt having about $16.7 billion and $6.2 billion to their names, respectively. Filmmaker James Cameron, worth $700 million or so, is advising the project, which seeks to both turn a profit and spur the further exploration and exploitation of space.

Planetary Resources' high-profile investors are in good company, for private spaceflight ventures have attracted the attention of some of the world's richest people in the last decade or so. And some of these folks aren't just money men, advisers or paying customers — they're running the show. [Images: Planetary Resources' Asteroid Mining Plans]

Leading the charge

The trend perhaps started in 2000, when Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos — now worth about $19.1 billion — established the private spaceflight firm Blue Origin.

Blue Origin is working to develop reusable rockets and spacecraft to launch astronauts to suborbital and orbital space. The secretive company has received money under NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, which is encouraging the progress of American astronaut taxis in the wake of the space shuttle's retirement. Blue Origin officials have said the firm's Space Vehicle could start delivering people to the International Space Station between 2016 and 2018.

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