The tragic incident could prove pivotal to the commercialization of space. Branson had said for years that Virgin Galactic was on the verge of shuttling ticketed passengers to a weightless ride 62 miles above Earth, to the very edge of outer space. Although the company has faced setbacks, Branson insisted after the crash
the project would proceed—just as all major exploration has proceeded through history, in spite of the risks.
Branson has even pledged to be on board for the ship’s maiden voyage. Private sector involvement in space travel seemed inevitable. As private companies face fewer political and economic obstacles than most government-run programs.
Now a growing number of companies are getting involved in a new sort of space race. Technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, the force behind the Tesla electric car (read more on page 369), started SpaceX to compete in an expanding market for government business. Virginia-based Orbital Sciences is his direct competitor.
Both won contracts from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to run supply flights to the International Space Station.
Defense contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin are also involved with private sector forays into space travel.
In addition to NASA’s ground control in Houston and Florida, private launchpads have been built. Bringing into reality the science fiction notion of a spaceport. Virgin Galactic bases its operations at Spaceport America near Albuquerque, New Mexico, at a facility developed with the help of the state’s Spaceport Authority.