Space Race Goes Private

Branson, tech peers are 21st century answer to NASA
By Jonas Oransky,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 4, 2007 11:33 AM CDT
Richard Branson, left, Burt Rutan and Paul Allen, right, watch as SpaceShipOne glides back to earth during the Ansari X Prize competition in Mojave, Calif., Oct. 4, 2004. Rutan, a secretive aviation...   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) – Today’s wildest-eyed entrepreneurs were kids when Sputnik launched 50 years ago today, and they’re picking up the government’s slack by taking their inspiration spaceward. Men who made millions in technology are privatizing spaceflight, even egging each other on to compete: Google is offering $20 million to the first private team to place a robotic rover on the moon, CNET reports.

Looking to bring back the excitement NASA fostered before turning from manned space journeys in 1976, the new extraterrestrial enthusiasts include one who lamented Apollo’s unfulfilled promise: “I'm going to give up on the government, I'm going to do it myself.” Oddly, a primary challenge for this vanguard is recruiting enough interested astronauts: Richard Branson’s project may sink or swim on how many are willing to fly—and pay.