What's the Latest Development?

Having successfully launched the world's first private space vehicle, the company SpaceX has secured a $1.6 billion NASA contract and will one day carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Other space ventures are close on its heels. The company Blue Origin, backed by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, plans to ferry goods to the ISS as well as build "a suborbital crew capsule and propulsion vehicle designed to take passengers." Other firms like Sierra Nevada Corp. and Boeing are also designing space vehicles to compete for NASA contracts, as the space agency's role shifts from a creator of space technology to that of a consumer.

What's the Big Idea?

Beyond NASA, the outer orbit economy is being opened by Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, which will be the first company to offer tourists a joyride in space. Another space tourism venture, being developed by Bigelow Aerospace and SpaceX, will blast people to small space hotel units that orbit the Earth and are capable of housing small groups of next-generation sightseers. "How long before ExxonMobile, Apple and Google decide it would be nice to have a private retreat orbiting Earth," asks Forbes' Karsten Strauss, "complete with boardroom, several private com-links and a smoothie station?" 

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