Space race has been revived by billionaires - and Elon Musk has taken the lead
Not happy with amassing huge fortunes on Earth, an elite group of super rich entrepreneurs are looking to the skies for their next challenge... and pay out
The space race is back on and this time it’s personal rather than political.
The Cold War rivalry that fuelled America and Russia to reach for the stars has been revived by billionaires.
This week tycoon Elon Musk took the lead when his Falcon 9 became the first non-government rocket to launch humans into orbit.
Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley docked at the International Space Station on Sunday.
But Musk plans to boldly go a lot further by putting tourists in space and establishing life on Mars by building a city for a million people.
He’s not the only one dreaming big. Amazon boss Jeff Bezos and Virgin’s Richard Branson are also looking beyond the skies.
Others seeking an out-of-this-world experience are wealthy stars who have already bought tickets for space flights.These include music giant Andrew Lloyd Webber, 72, singer Taylor Swift, 30, and screen stars Kirsten Dunst, 38, and Leonardo DiCaprio, 45.
So what is behind the out-of-this world ambitions of the rich.
Well, it’s unlikely to be just their planet-sized egos, the greater good of humanity or nostalgia for early space travel and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. That was in 1969. Musk was not even born until 1971.
At the heart of the dark matter is money. Seats on private spacecraft will cost millions of pounds.
Beyond that mining on the asteroid belt could mean stratospheric profits. The minor planets are said to be brimming with £500billion of metals – ranging from iron and nickel to gold and platinum.
Getting there could be tricky. The main belt is way beyond Mars, which is an average of 140 million miles away and would take an estimated 162 days to reach.
But mining those elements could help solve Earth’s climate crisis with solar panels, energy-saving lightbulbs and electric cars – including Musk’s Tesla, which is reliant on platinum.
The mission of Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was the first to launch humans from America since Nasa’s space shuttles were retired in 2011 after 30 years.
It also signalled an end to US reliance on the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, to get its astronauts to the ISS at a cost of more than £55million a seat.
On the back of his success, Musk this week also launched 60 satellites on board a Falcon 9 rocket to provide improved internet around the globe, worth an estimated £8billion.
But eccentric Musk, whose worth is approaching £30billion, has his eyes on the red planet.
By 2050 he wants to build a city on Mars populated by people taken there on 1,000 SpaceX Starships, 387ft rockets he is developing for deep-space travel.
PayPal co-founder Musk tweeted there would be “a lot of jobs” on Mars and “loans available for those who don’t have money” to get there.
A seat on a SpaceX capsule will cost a tourist around £40million.
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, 44, the man behind fashion site Zozotown, is reputedly paying the company £2billion for a week-long flight around the moon in 2023.
A rival for the “affordable” space travel market is Musk’s one-time friend Bezos whose firm Blue Origin in 2015 celebrated launching the first suborbital rocket to return to earth on its launch pad.
Musk tweeted congratulations at the time but also plugged his own project to launch a load into space and bring a booster back.
Last year, during a series of public rows, Bezos ridiculed the Mars city plan.
At a private lecture in New York he said: “My friends who want to move to Mars? I say do me a favour. Go live at the top of Mount Everest for a year first and see if you like it because it’s a garden paradise compared to Mars.”
Bezos believes humans must settle on the moon first. He wants to build a permanent base there and eventually have millions of people living and working in space.
In April, Nasa awarded Blue Origin, SpaceX and US engineer firm Dynetics almost £1billion in funding to build the next generation of human moon ships.
Dynetics aims to send Americans back to the moon, a goal President Donald Trump wants to achieve by 2024. His interest in space comes as the US sees a new rival in China. The communist state’s first mission to Mars is set to launch later this summer.
Branson, a forerunner in space tourism trips with Virgin Galactic, had a successful maiden flight in December 2018 and hopes to eventually launch tourists more than 50 miles above Earth – the point at which Nasa defines passengers as astronauts.
But his projects could be delayed as he is distracted with saving his business empire in the light of coronavirus.