Why is the private space industry booming?
October 4th, 1957: the Soviet Union launched the very first satellite, Sputnik 1, into Space. It was the first time humanity had sent any object in to space. Twelve years later, in July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon, paving the way for increasingly bold and ambitious journeys to space, and numerous manned missions to the moon. But, in recent years NASA’s funding has been cut to the bone, and despite a growing understanding of the universe, the development of more sophisticated technology, increasing ambition and itching desire to do it again, there have been no new US government missions for several years.
This has left a serious vacuum. The knowledge, the technology, and the dream are all there, but the money and the political will just are not, and in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, governments have been scrambling around for money to plug deficits and pay off debts, cutting budgets left right and centre. In order to avoid accusations of callousness and cruelty, which would be the inevitable result of cutting public services, science budgets have been prime targets, since slashing these do not negatively affect the poorest individuals.
The abdication of responsibility by the US government, the inability of NASA to pay for any new missions, and the blossoming of space technology have all worked together to create a perfect storm, creating the ideal conditions for a boom in the private space industry. An industry once thought the monopoly of NASA and various governments and government bodies around the world, and which has been left to its own devices for several years, is now being reinvigorate, reincarnated, and revolutionist by the explosion - pardon the pun - of the private sector of space exploration.
SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin are just a few of the companies behind the new space race, taking humanity to the brink of a fresh golden age of galactic exploration. It has been a long time since the last space age, and most had thought that humanity’s quest to discover the stars had been cast away, with governments focusing more on other issues. But Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson are just three of the new pioneers, steering humanity’s upward course, and reaching for the stars.
SpaceX seem to be getting ever closer to cracking the secret of space travel, with an increasing number of successful tests, and plans to send an unmanned mission to Mars in May. Blue Origin are suggesting they might be able to carry tourists in to space later this year. And Virgin Galactic, who were the pioneers of private space travel back in the early noughties, are continuing to carry out successful test flies. It seems then that whilst NASA’s ambition and resources have collapsed, others have stepped into the breach, to do what humanity has always wanted to do - explore and discover!