Highfliers in space

The coming flights of two wealthy entrepreneurs on their own rockets set new visions for space travel.

Virgin Galactic via AP
Founder of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson (third from right), poses with fellow crew members for a July 11 test flight of the company's winged rocket ship from a site in New Mexico.

Almost by definition, entrepreneurs are known to set sky-high goals in business. Perhaps no other goal could be loftier than making space travel available to as many people as possible. But will their flights be safe? 

In the next few days two billionaires, who made money in earthbound ventures, will show prospective space tourists that they won’t be asked to do anything these wealthy “astropreneurs,” as they are being called, wouldn’t do themselves. On July 11, Sir Richard Branson of Britain’s Virgin Group will ride into suborbital space aboard his Virgin Galactic spacecraft. Then on July 20, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos plans to make a suborbital flight aboard his Blue Origin spacecraft.

Not to be forgotten is entrepreneur Elon Musk. His SpaceX rocket has already made three trips into orbit delivering crews and supplies to the International Space Station. While Mr. Musk hasn’t announced if he will be aboard a flight anytime soon, SpaceX plans to launch private citizens into Earth orbit for a three-day experience as soon as this September.

A space race between wealthy entrepreneurs may seem like mere spectacle. But it is one that is serving a useful purpose. “It has been a long time since we have had this much interest and accelerated progress in the space industry,” notes Rob Meyerson, former president of Blue Origin, now at an investment firm. 

Each of these astropreneurs is passionately carrying out a vision of what commercial space travel might become. Each brings different approaches to space technologies. The result has been a burst of innovation, including rockets that can lift a payload into space and then make a controlled flight back to Earth, and a space plane that takes off, not from the ground, but from an airplane acting as its launchpad. 

Even as the governments of space-faring nations continue to pursue national goals in space, the market in unmanned commercial space launches has quietly increased some 400% during the last five years as entrepreneurs have flocked to the field. And by one estimate, the space-tourism market could reach $3 billion a year by the end of this decade.

NASA, using taxpayers’ money, and putting U.S. national prestige on the line, necessarily must take a somewhat cautious approach in space. Entrepreneurs are willing to risk it all, a skill that enables them to effectively cope with “uncertainty and unknowability …. and effectively take action,” notes Leonard Schlesinger, a professor at Harvard Business School and former president of Babson College, which emphasizes entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs shrug off setbacks. “Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again,” Mr. Branson has advised. 

Mr. Bezos, who has just stepped down as chief executive of Amazon, famously talks of needing to “lean into the future” despite the head winds “because complaining isn’t a strategy.” His Blue Origin motto is “Gradatim Ferociter” – step by step, ferociously.

The fearless imaginations of these astropreneurs have set new visions in space, where unknown challenges and opportunities await in abundance. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.