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Aruba, July 31, 2015 - Getting human beings off the planet is the hardest design challenge mankind has ever undertaken. Yet it's also a solved problem: we've been sending people into space since 1961.
50 years later and space feels both closer (NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto!) and farther away (last month's loss of a SpaceX rocket) than ever before.
Is space about to experience a design renaissance, thanks to privatized New Space companies fronted by international billionaires and Silicon Valley geniuses?
When we talk about New Space, we're basically talking about two companies and their billionaire founders.
First, you've got SpaceX—extremely efficient, extremely practical, yet dreaming of a million people living on colonized Mars. Founded by Tesla's Elon Musk, SpaceX has made enormous progress: it's the first privately held company to ever dock with the International Space Station, for example. Even so, SpaceX has had its setbacks, including the explosion of one of its Falcon 9 rockets last month from a broken strut.
Then there's Virgin Galactic, billionaire Richard Branson's long-delayed attempt to make traveling to space as easy as jumping on a plane. It has a spaceport (SpacePort America) designed by Norman Foster to rival the best airports in the world, and hundreds of eager passengers sitting on tickets worth upwards of $250,000 each. Yet so far, Virgin Galactic has had very little luck actually getting into orbit. The company's maiden space voyage is six years late, and following the mid-flight breakup of SpaceShip Two late last year—a catastrophe caused largely by avoidable human error— it's likely to be delayed even longer.