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Who's Who in Space Innovation
Space may be TV's final frontier, but it's only the beginning for many pioneers and entrepreneurs hoping to expand humanity's reach beyond planet Earth.
Choose your favorite space innovator from this group of the top 21st century space pioneers.
Elon Musk – Space Exploration TechnologiesSlide 2 of 34
Elon Musk – Space Exploration Technologies
Elon Musk is a tech and business polymath. He co-founded PayPal and the electric-car firm Tesla Motors, and in 2002 he founded the private spaceflight company Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX for short).
SpaceX aims to cut the cost of spaceflight and increase its reliability by a factor of 10, thereby spurring a revolution in space exploration and development. The company is well on its way — it has scored a $1.6 billion NASA contract to ferry cargo to the International Space Station using its Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket. With December's successful test flight of Dragon and the Falcon 9, SpaceX became the first private company ever to re-enter a spacecraft from Earth orbit. And transporting astronauts may be just around the corner; SpaceX recently submitted a proposal to NASA to upgrade Dragon to a crew-carrying craft.
Musk is not just a figurehead at SpaceX. He's the company's CEO and chief technology officer, and he's lead engineer for Dragon, Falcon 9 and SpaceX's Falcon 1 rocket. Wherever SpaceX goes, Musk will be in the driver's seat.Slide 3 of 34
Robert Bigelow – Bigelow AerospaceSlide 4 of 34
Robert Bigelow – Bigelow Aerospace
Entrepreneur Robert Bigelow owns the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, but he's not content just renting out rooms here on Earth — he heads a company that's leasing out space on inflatable habitats in orbit.
Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace builds space modules that pack down small for launch but expand greatly in orbit, providing much more room for less cost than typical, hard-walled habitats. Bigelow launched test modules in 2006 and 2007, and the company is now ramping up production and catching customers' eyes. In 2010, Bigelow inked deals with six different clients, ranging from space agencies to government departments to research groups. The firm is also apparently in discussions with NASA about attaching a Bigelow habitat to the International Space Station.
Bigelow's inflatable habitats could also be set up on celestial bodies such as the moon, according to the company. Bigelow has voiced ambitions to set up a lunar base, which would be assembled in orbit and lowered down to the surface. If people are going to explore and develop space, they'll need places to stay, and Bigelow aims to provide them.Slide 5 of 34
Richard Branson – Virgin GalacticSlide 6 of 34
Richard Branson – Virgin Galactic
British entrepreneur Richard Branson started up Virgin Records in the 1970s, then expanded the Virgin brand into many different realms, including telecommunications, commercial aviation — and now space tourism.
Branson heads Virgin Galactic, which plans to take paying customers on suborbital joyrides that will give them a few minutes of weightlessness and a great view of Earth below. The company's spaceliner — built by aerospace firm Scaled Composites, and known as SpaceShipTwo — is carried up to 50,000 feet by a mothership, at which point it fires its rocket engines and blasts into suborbital space.
SpaceShipTwo has made several successful glide flights already, and Branson has said Virgin Galactic could be carrying tourists by the end of 2011. So far, about 400 people have put deposits down for a seat.
But that's not all. The company also has ambitions to make orbital tourist flights, to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station and to start up intercontinental flights, which could ferry passengers around the world much faster than the old supersonic Concorde jet. With Branson's record of success, it's wise not to count him out.Slide 7 of 34
John Carmack of Armadillo AerospaceSlide 8 of 34