Exploring Space, the American Way

Glenn Reynolds has a fun article in the Atlantic on space exploration, the American way: through private enterprise. It’s taken space enthusiasts some time to get over their focus on politics and their disappointment at NASA’s post-Apollo drift, but what is emerging now is exciting and creative, as private enterprise generally is:

The main source of excitement at this year’s conference was space tourism—folks in the industry prefer the term “personal spaceflight”—involving many companies, from the well-known (Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic) to the sort-of-known (Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin) to the comparatively obscure (XCOR Aerospace). Just this week it was announced that Google co-founder Sergey Brin plans to be a space tourist on a flight to the international space station in 2011. ***

The Moon is the other main source of excitement. There are now 14 different teams competing for the Google Lunar X-Prize, which will pay $30 million to the first team to send a robot lander/rover to the Moon. Most of them see the prize as a way to jumpstart a longer-term lunar business, not simply as a reward for a one-off effort.

The same enterprising spirit could locate and develop American oil and gas reserves a lot easier than it can take tourists to the moon, but there is one critical difference: the federal government hasn’t made space exploration illegal.

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