Google’s Brin, Page Top Forbes List of Billionaire Space Tourism Supporters

Forbes – that arbiter of all things extravagant – has come out with its annual list of the world’s richest people.  The tally includes five billionaires who are playing major roles in commercial space and space tourism.

The Google Boys

Co-founders Sergey Brin, 35, and Larry Page, 36, are tied for 26th place on the Forbes list, with each of them worth an estimated $12 billion. Google CEO Eric Schmidt, 53, also landed on the list at no. 119. He has an estimated net worth of $4.4 billion.

Brin has put down a $5 million deposit on a tourism flight to the International Space Station. The company is sponsoring the $25 million Google Lunar X Prize, a race to land a privately-funded rover on the moon. The Internet search giant also has developed Google Mars, a program that allows people to explore the Red Planet on their computers.

Google is expected to be involved in the International Space University’s annual summer session, which will take place at NASA Ames Research Center this summer. The Strasbourg-based school brings together young aerospace professionals from around the world for an international, inter-disciplinary and inter-cultural space studies program.

Google recently announced a partnership with NASA and ISU to form the Singularity University. The new school, which will have its first session in Mountain View this summer, aims to:

assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies and apply, focus and guide these tools to address humanity’s grand challenges.

The Software Man

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen was not far behind Brin and Page at no. 32. The 56-year-old software mogul is worth an estimated $10.5 billion. He was a prominent backer of Burt Rutan, whose Scaled Composites company built the first private suborbital vehicle, SpaceShipOne.

Sir Richard

Richard Branson, whose Virgin Galactic will fly tourists into space aboard SpaceShipTwo, was no. 261 on the Forbes millionaire list, with a net worth of $2.5 billion. Branson has promised to take his family up into space with him on the first commercial flight — possibly later this year. The 58-year-old British mogul is a tireless self-promoter, rarely passing up an opportunity to pitch his Virgin Group of companies.

Amazon Men on the Moon

Amazon.com founder Jeffrey Bezos is sort of the anti-Branson billionaire, at least when it comes to space. The 45-year-old Internet guru landed at no. 68 on the Forbes list, worth an estimated $6.8 billion. Bezos is building his secretive Blue Origin vehicle in the Texas desert. Whereas Amazon.com is one of the most sophisticated web portals in the world, the Blue Origin site is strictly web 1.0, with a simple layout and not a whole lot of information.  Thus, it’s very difficult to know precisely where the project is in terms of development.

The Missing Man

One prominent NewSpace supporter who is not on the list this year: Charles Simonyi. The former Microsoft engineer – who will soon make his second tourist flight to ISS – has an estimated net worth of $1 billion, at least according to his Wikipedia entry. However, he is not on the Forbes list this year.

An ironically named Forbes story titled “Poor Billionaires,” dated October 06, 2008, said the magazine had found 489 U.S. billionaires. Simonyi landed among the 89 billionaires who were outside of the top 400.

It’s possible that with the economic meltdown, Simonyi has fallen off the billionaire list this year.

Millionauts Only

Other prominent NewSpace figures who did not make the Forbes list include ISS tourists Richard Garriott, Anousheh Ansari, Dennis Tito, Greg Olsen and Mark Shuttleworth. SpaceX founder Elon Musk remains in the millionaire category as well. As does Burt Rutan and cosmonaut-in-training Esther Dyson.