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The space race is heating up again, with billionaires leading the way

Chelsea Lombardo
Production Assistant

Fifty years after Apollo 11 landed on the moon, the space race is heating up again, with billionaires leading the way.

“This is an exciting time. There's no question,” former NASA administrator and current Syracuse University professor Sean O’Keefe said on Yahoo Finance’s “The First Trade.” “At this point, 50 years ago, you had three people, for the first time, on their way to a place we had never been to before.”

Before 1969, heading to the moon was a mission most could only dream about, but now big money is being spent to make it happen again.

Recently, Yahoo Finance’s Adam Shapiro reported that NASA awarded $45 million to 11 American companies in May. SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Boeing were among these companies, which are aiming to develop reusable systems to transport astronauts to the moon as soon as possible.

“This is following exactly the same pattern that entrepreneurs throughout the course of industrial history of the modern age have experienced,” O’Keefe said.

O’Keefe compared today’s efforts to get people to the moon with how inconceivable it was 100 years ago to easily fly people around the world. “It was entirely the domain of the public sector of government for military, as well as public applications for delivering mail and so forth that then developed into an opportunity that entrepreneurs saw to make aviation and commercial aviation a feasibility that we now just take for granted, like it's not anything particularly remarkable,” he said.

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, carrying the U.S. Air Force's Space Test Program-2 mission, lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., June 25, 2019. REUTERS/Thom Baur

Elon Musk, CEO of electric car maker Tesla, also heads up private company SpaceX. The company has reportedly secured over 100 missions to its manifest, representing over $12 billion in contract. Just last month, the company launched two different missions, and even had a spacecraft depart the International Space Station, making a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean and ultimately marking the company’s 17th resupply mission to the space station.

Blue Origin, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s rocket company, is working on a rocket for space tourism and recently unveiled a vision for building the infrastructure for human presence on the moon.

Also in the race is British billionaire Richard Branson’s space-tourism unit Virgin Galactic plans to go public later this year. Branson said he plans to take his first trip to space this year.

“We're seeing some really, really inventive entrepreneurs with grand visions that are basically just getting started to move towards that same pattern that we saw for commercial aviation that made traveling around the globe a relatively easy proposition,” said O’Keefe.

It may seem like we’ve accomplished a lot already, but O’Keefe says there’s still a lot more to come. “Within the universe, we are really small. So we're just beginning. This is the very early stages.”

Chelsea Lombardo is a Production Assistant for Yahoo Finance. You can find more of her work here.

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