NASA has radically scaled back, but space travel survives. How? In the face of fiscal constraints, the agency has changed its role. For the United States, space exploration is evolving from a government-led venture to a rich collaboration with the private sector.
As NASA has reduced its commitments, a dynamic private sector space ecosystem has sprung up vigorously into the void, and with the agency’s strong support. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, for example, is developing a spacecraft to launch tourists into orbit and facilitate at least $4.5 million in NASA research contracts, prompting New Mexico to build a $209 million spaceport. Blue Origin, led by Amazon.com founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos, is developing space vehicles designed to launch and land on retractable legs. A startup called NanoRacks helps scientists who need zero-gravity environments transport their experiments to the International Space Station.
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