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The Private Space Race Just Got Very Real

SpaceX

The space race is heating up again with the launch by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, in partnership with NASA, the first manned mission to the International Space Station on Sunday.

Sunday night, four astronauts were shot into orbit atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for a 27-hour voyage to the International Space Station. The three NASA astronauts and one from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency will be joining two Russians and one American who flew to the space station last month.

SpaceX has signed contracts with NASA valued $3 billion to develop, test and fly an astronaut taxi service. The agency said it is now entering a new era in which routine astronaut journeys to low-Earth orbit are being conducted by commercial providers.

In the next 15 months, SpaceX should be flying roughly seven Dragon missions for NASA, both crew and cargo in a commercially developed Crew Dragon capsule. 

Both U.S. President Donald Trump and President-elect Biden praised the launch, even if in contrasting tones. 

President-elect Biden congratulated both NASA and SpaceX for the launch and wished the crew well.

"It’s a testament to the power of science and what we can accomplish by harnessing our innovation, ingenuity, and determination. I join all Americans and the people of Japan in wishing the astronauts Godspeed on their journey," Biden said on Twitter.

President Trump, on the other hand, took the occasion to self-congratulate. 

“A great launch! NASA was a closed up disaster when we took over. Now it is again the ‘hottest’, most advanced, space center in the world, by far,!" Trump tweeted.

In May, SpaceX ran a demonstration mission in which two astronauts were taken to the ISS and then returned to Earth. 

Both SpaceX and Boeing have been developing spacecraft to take over the job of crew transport from Nasa. However, Boeing is at least a year behind Musk. 

Boeing's Starliner spacecraft development is still delayed because of major software issues from last year and the company hopes that it could be in operation next year.

More importantly, the companies will also be able to use their vehicles to fly tourists, private researchers or anyone else who can afford the ticket.

The global space industry is expected to generate revenue of $1.1 trillion or more in 2040, up from the current $350 billion, according to a recent report by Morgan Stanley estimates.

However, Musk is not the only billionaire in the space race that will go beyond just sending up astronauts. 

SpaceX is racing with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Holdings and Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin to be the first company to send fee-paying passengers into space. 

Last October, Virgin Galactic became the first space tourism company to hit public markets after listing on the New York Stock Exchange. The move follows the company’s merger with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings, setting up the space tourism company to list directly on the NYSE on Monday.

More than 600 people in over 60 nations have spent roughly $80 million to reserve seats on Branson's rocket ships in hopes of being the first to gain access to this unique new service.

Bezos’s Blue Origin space venture is working on a landing system that could put astronauts on the moon by as early as 2024.

More evidence that the space race is truly heating up can perhaps also be gleaned from stock movements Monday following SpaceX’s Sunday launch. 

Virgin Galactic closed down over $6 lower.

By Fred Dunkley for Safehaven.com

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