Analyst: Obama Needs to Start Trusting the New Wright Brothers of Space

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Over at Esquire magazine, Thomas P.M. Barnett puts in a good word for commercial space pioneers, suggesting that its time for the “Obama administration to start trusting the new Wright Brothers of aerospace.”

America’s private-sector space industry today seems poised for lift-off. Thanks to prime-pumping incentives like the Ansari X Prize for sub-orbital human spaceflight (won by legendary aeronautic engineer Burt Rutan) and the Google Lunar X Prize for the first privately funded robotic moon landing (well under way with dozens of teams ready to beat NASA to lunar YouTube videos), a handful of companies are set to get new hardware off the ground. And fast.

Rutan has already designed a sub-orbital space plane for billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which hopes to put rich tourists (ticket are only, you know, $200,000) in near space in a matter of months. Then there’s a Las Vegas hotelier Robert Bigelow, whose company has contracted with NASA to be the sole commercializer of a new modular space-station design. Bigelow’s dream? Renting out orbiting rooms with a view. Another firm, UP Aerospace, hopes to become the UPS of space delivery, having already sent the ashes of Jimmy Doohan (Star Trek’s Scotty) to a place where no actor has gone before. Several of these startups-in-light-speed, such as Musk’s SpaceX and its orbital space rockets (scheduled for testing this year and a rendezvous with the ISS in 2010), depend on government contracts to fund their big ideas. That’s the sad reality: By virtue of NASA’s past mistakes, its successors’ fates are interwoven in its current hang-ups. But give these guys an inch, and they’ll literally give you a mile.

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