It’s not absolutely necessary to be rich if you want to explore space, but it sure doesn’t hurt. Here are some financially well-endowed individuals who don’t mind spending part of their fortunes getting into orbit.
Amazon.com’s billion-aire founder has sold off $640 million of stock this year while bankrolling his Seattle-based aerospace company, Blue Origin. They’re developing escape systems for NASA rockets and planning their own suborbital space tourist flights by 2012 from their West Texas launch site.
Sir Richard Branson
The British billionaire behind the Virgin mega-brand founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, and is selling $200,000 tickets for suborbital passenger flights, by 2012 or so, from their spaceport in New Mexico.
Branson sees space travel as a way of speeding up transcontinental travel: “We’ll be going city to city by just shooting people out to space and straight back down again.”
The South African founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors launched California rocket maker Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) in 2002.
Despite high-profile setbacks (some of Star Trek actor James “Scotty” Doohan’s ashes met their final frontier in the Pacific), the company proposes to transport payload and crew to the International Space Station (ISS), and to reach Mars with nuclear-thermal rockets.
The X Prize founder is also a director of Virginia-based Space Adventures, the company that’s flown seven well-heeled tourists to the ISS, including video game mogul Richard Garriott and telecom millionaire Anousheh Ansari, for prices of $20 million to $35 million.
They’re now booking suborbital flights too, as well as $100 million seats for a circumnavigation of the moon.
The founder and top developer of Id Software (Quake, Doom, and the space-themed Commander Keen) launched Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace in 2000.
Now they’re partnering with Diamandis’ Space Adventures to develop suborbital space tourist flights for an estimated $102,000 a seat.
While Google sponsors the $30 million Lunar X Prize, its billionaire co-founder is personally headed for space. In 2008 he invested $5 million in Space Adventures, as a down payment on an estimated $35 million ride to the ISS aboard a Soyuz launched in his native Russia, as early as 2012.