Five groups making private space flight a reality

Space was once a theatre of the Cold War. The United States and the Soviet Union competed against each other to launch satellites, spacecraft, and astronauts into orbit, resulting in Sputnik, the space shuttle program, and six successful manned missions to the moon. But space exploration has changed rapidly in recent years. NASA has long struggled to receive the congressional funding and positive political sentiment it requires, evidenced by the retirement of the space shuttle program in 2011. Still, there is a vibrant future in space and it relies heavily on private enterprise. Many of the same companies that dominate the arenas of technology, media, and travel are now playing a major role in a new, commercial space industry. From space tourism to cargo trips to human trips to Mars, these are five key players with the capital, determination, and vision to shape the new path to the final frontier. 

1. Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX)

(Jae C. Hong/AP)
Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX, walks down the steps while introducing the SpaceX Dragon V2 spaceship at the headquarters on Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Hawthorne, Calif. SpaceX, which has flown unmanned cargo capsules to the International Space Station, unveiled the new spacecraft Thursday designed to ferry astronauts to low-Earth orbit.

Elon Musk is thinking big. As in, out-of-this-planet big. As in, maybe-a-different-planet big. 

Mr. Musk has worked for the past ten years to revolutionize the auto industry by bringing electric cars into the mainstream as head of Tesla Motors. But he isn't just disrupting the way we travel on land. The entrepreneur has had his sights set all along on changing the way we navigate space. 

In 2002, Musk founded SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, Calif. The company's Dragon spacecraft became the first commercial craft to visit the International Space Station, when it docked a cargo ship there in 2012. Currently, SpaceX transports cargo to and from the ISS as part of a $1.6 billion contract awarded to the company by NASA.

But Musk aims a bit higher than just playing space delivery boy. What sounds like the plot of a Ray Bradbury novel is in fact his stated goal: colonizing Mars. “The reason SpaceX was created was to accelerate development of rocket technology, all for the goal of establishing a self-sustaining, permanent base on Mars,” Musk told an audience at the 33rd annual International Space Development Conference in May, according to

To that end, SpaceX is developing the Mars Colonial Transporter, which will take humans to Mars and then back to Earth. Musk says it could transport 100 individuals at a time and be “fully reusable.” The Transporter is expected to use the Raptor rocket engine, which runs on methane and liquid oxygen. 

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