Key people in Space Exploration

These exciting times have brought the space race back into the consciousness of a large section of the public. 50 years ago The Soviet Union and the USA were the two giants who fought for supremacy.

Today in a much more commercially oriented era, there are three major players. They are:- Elon Musk; Richard Branson; Jeff Bezos.

The following major players are listed in no particular order. They all have a passion for space exploration and pushing the boundaries of possibility.

Elon Musk – SpaceX

Elon Musk, the much revered South African entrepreneur, is a one man driving force that is pushing the boundaries in space exploration. His many projects have left an indelible mark on the outcomes of many miraculous undertakings. Such as, the amazingly successful Australian lithium battery energy cost-saving, and the TESLA electric car, as well as Elon’s many other companies.

Initially in 2001, Elon Musk inaugurated Mars Oasis. This project aimed to successfully land a small experimental greenhouse on Mars. Colonizing Mars to this day is where Elon focuses his energies.

Some see Elon Musk as a maverick, some see his as a visionary. What is indisputable is the fact he gets things done. Moving forward to today, Elon Musk has founded SpaceX, developed and launched multiple successful rocket tests.

Elon Musk has always believed that the key to making space travel affordable is to make every rocket reusable again. To this end his quest is to still reduce the cost of space exploration by at least a factor of 10, striving to make space travel affordable for all those who wish be a part of the space race.

Richard Branson – Orbit

Catching up fast with Elon Musk is Richard Branson. He launched his company Virgin Orbit in Long Beach California in 2017. The sole aim being to launch small satellites, and like Elon Musk, potentially make space-flight and tourism available to the public.

Although relatively new, Virgin Orbit employs 300 engineers who are dedicated to advancing aerospace design and satellite launch.

Richard Branson commented “Opening space for everyone isn’t just our ultimate business goal — it’s also the principle that guides how we grow and nurture our diverse team. The Virgin Orbit crew spans the breadth of human backgrounds, skills and experience, and there’s room for you, too.”  

The future for Richard Branson and Virgin Orbit as new kids on the block Virgin are to continue working hard as they advance towards their inaugural flight and keep making progress. As new phases of testing are reached and partnerships between governments and private industry coexist, space-flight opportunities for everyone open up.

Jeff Bezos – Blue Origin

Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos is the latest space-flight entrepreneur to pave the way for affordable commercial space travel. Although his company Blue Origin has been in existence for almost 20 years, it is only relatively recently that plans have emerged for cost effective space colonisation and Blue Origin.

For Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin, space exploration is more about finding habitable conditions and taming  inhospitable conditions in space. The Moon is his focus of exploration where testing has begun.

During 2015 Jeff Bezos announced that his brand new orbital launch vehicle was currently being developed and constructed which would make its first flight in late-2017. Later, Blue Origin’s New Sheppard space orbital  launch vehicle had a successful launch into space reaching its planned test altitude of 100.5 kilometres before it executed a perfect vertical landing returning to its launch site in West Texas. In 2016, Jeff Bezos invited a select group of journalists to visit, tour, and photograph his West Texas facility.

Jeff Bezos announced that he is now confident of the eventual colonisation of areas of space before 2030.


Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) have recently been developed in the form of reusable vehicles which began back in 2006. A USA commercially operated cargo vehicle without a crew was tabled as uncrewed cargo vehicles to service the International Space Station as a mean of cost-cutting was tabled. Private investment to raise unspecified amounts of revenue were proposed to keep NASA viable in today’s market.

In late 2008 NASA gave CRS contracts to both SpaceX and Virgin Orbital.SpaceX used its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to reach the ISS. Orbital used its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft.

The program saw an average of four crew personnel visiting the ISS at any one time. They stayed docked for an average of 180 days, then returning to Earth. It was then recognised that further private investment was needed.

2010 saw NASA announce the winners of the next phase of the program. $50 million was equally divided among five US companies for further research and development concerning human spaceflight technologies in the private sector. 2011 then saw the winners of a further phase of the program. Another $270 million was divided among four companies. In 2012, winners of the third phase of the space program were eventually announced by NASA who were to provide $1.1 billion which was divided among three companies for further development of their crew transportation systems. 2014 saw the winners of the final round announced by NASA. SpaceX’s Dragon V2  received a contract which was valued at up to $2.6 billion, and Boeing’s CST-100 received a contract valued at up to $4.2 billion.

Private industry continues to lead the way in cost-effective space exploration, even though NASA has the lion’s share of expertise and infrastructure.


It was in the month of May in 2013 that Jeff Bezos met with the Chaiman of Virgin Orbit Sir Richard Branson. They thoroughly discussed the possibilities of commercial spaceflight opportunities and strategic practicalities. Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos are all billionaires who prioritize spaceflight among their business vast interests. They have immense interests and aspirations in common.

Nasa is a huge government backed organisation that is finding it hard to compete in the fast-moving, cost-cutting, value for money needs of the industry today. All four still have their parts to play.

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