Today's successful launch of the privately-owned SpaceX rocket marks the beginning of a new era in space travel. Welcome to the age of corporate astronauts, orbital mansions, and Moon holidays for those who can afford it.
With the government-funded Space Shuttle retiring next year, space travel company SpaceX could step in to fill the void left by Obama's space agenda - which emphasizes robot-controlled space exploration and research. Today the company's Falcon 9 rocket blasted out of Cape Canaveral carrying the Dragon space capsule. After orbiting the Earth twice, the capsule splashed down in the Pacific.
Dubai in space?
Though the hope is that commercially funded space travel will serve as a supplement to scientific and military work, that may not be the end result. If SpaceX is successful, we might see them branching out into space real estate and orbital cruises for the super-rich. Already, some universities are training people in the field of "space law" to handle issues around property claims several miles above the Earth's surface.
During the heyday of real estate madness in Dubai, developers proved that massive geoengineering projects like artificial islands can be built - if you have enough money. If the UAE can have mile-high skyscrapers and condos built on made-to-order landmasses, it stands to reason that other ultrarich people can build space habitats for themselves too. The question is only when.
Life on the LaGrange points
In William Gibson's early work, he imagines wealthy families who have left the planet and pursue their weird investment and art projects from habitats that remain in a stationary position over the Earth in the LaGrangian points. These are areas where the gravity of the Earth and Moon interact to create regions where objects in orbit can remain stable without zooming around the planet. It's easy to imagine these would be the locations for the first gated communities around Earth. Why fly through all that space junk when you can clear a nice spot for your mansion in one of the five most desirable positions offworld?
So, welcome to the new era in space colonization. The stars will be yours - for a price.
Images by Matt Stroshane/Getty