Tech Billionaire Brigade in Race for Outer Space
The search for distant worlds has spurred billionaires to put their own money into space programmes. Meanwhile, Team Indus in India is pioneering a privately-funded moon mission

American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist Carl Sagan said, “Since, in the long run, every planetary civilisation will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilisation is obliged to become spacefaring - not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive... If our long-term survival is at stake, we have a basic responsibility to our species to venture to other worlds.”

Man’s fascination with exploring the unknown has been embedded since the beginning of mankind. It was the will to seek the mysterious that helped humanity search for places that were. First, the man took to the sea and explored different routes to see different cultures of far places. As the world we know came into being, the next for humanity was to explore what was above all of us, space.

One of the biggest challenges for humanity was how to seek unknown. But it was not until the late 1950s when the war of Space exploration between USA and USSR was accelerated by geopolitical troubles such as Cold War. The early era of space exploration was driven by a "Space Race" between the Soviet Union and the United States.

The Moon was the first celestial body to be the object of space exploration. It holds the distinctions of being the first remote celestial object to be flown by, orbited, and landed upon by spacecraft, and the only remote celestial object ever to be visited by humans. In 1959, the Soviets obtained the first images of the far side of the Moon, never previously visible to humans. The US exploration of the Moon began with the Ranger 4 impactor in 1962.

Manned exploration of the Moon began in 1968 with the Apollo 8 mission that successfully orbited the Moon, the first time any extraterrestrial object was orbited by humans. In 1969, the Apollo 11 mission marked the first time humans set foot upon another world. Manned exploration of the Moon did not continue for

long, however. The Apollo 17 mission in 1972 marked the most recent human visit there, and the next, Exploration Mission 2, is due to orbit the Moon in 2021.

Now, the space race is participated by some of the major private players who are biggies of the tech world. To think of billionaires and outer space, there are only three names that come to mind: Elon Musk's SpaceX, Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin and Richard Branson Virgin Galactic. It turns out that they have plenty of company. 13 among the world’s 500 richest people have an investment in a space enterprise, according to data compiled by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index and consulting firm Bryce Space & Technology.

They have a net worth of $513 billion. Such an astounding number becomes necessary because space ventures such as rocket launches can involve unfathomable expenses. Jeff Bezos is funding rocket company Blue Origin with a mammoth sum of $1 billion a year. Branson’s Virgin Galactic has spent more than $600 million to facilitate the commercial passenger flights into suborbital space by the end of 2018.

The last decade has seen a boom in space exploration startups, and billionaires aren’t the only players. They were spurred in part by Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Its first commercial launch in 2009 encouraged an ecosystem of space companies that were previously hindered by the cost of getting to orbit.

Space Angels, a network for space investors, reckons there are more than 225 private space ventures that have received equity financing, a staggering rise from a mere 33 in 2009. And funding has followed suit. About $3.1 billion was invested in these businesses in 2016, compared with $409 million in 2011, according to Space Angels.

But the burgeoning market is birthing ever more diverse companies, including a space-age version of ridesharing. SpaceFlight, backed by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen, is booking payloads on flights and has even bought up the entire capacity of a SpaceX rocket to divvy up among customers.