Today – Private Space Companies.
When I was growing up, the idea of the “backyard spaceship” was a desirable but discredited idea. D.D. Harriman* was one of my heroes – he kept the idea alive for me. Andy Griffith, one of the most popular and well-respected actors of my time even championed the cause with a television show (short-lived though it was) in Salvage 1.
But alas, such was not to be. The costs were too high and the military applications too important to let Dr. Cargraves and his nephew futz around in the backyard. There was absolutely no chance that a homemade capsule strapped to a handful of JATO units would ever get off the ground, much less into orbit.
That’s been changing big time. Developments over the past decade or so have seen a tremendous increase in the number of private companies developing space launch capabilities – everything from robotic asteroid capture devices to rockets that take-off AND land under power. These efforts may not be exactly the same as that backyard spaceship (it takes a big yard and a big bank account) but I’ll bet that Musk, or Diamandis or Bigelow were inspired by Rocketship Galileo just like I was.
Armadillo Aerospace: Armadillo is developing reusable rocket systems.
Bigelow Aerospace: Bigelow has already launched test flights of inflatable space habitats. Pending further testing, they plan to launch and build a multi-compartment research facility.
Orbital Sciences Corporation: Orbital is testing several launch systems with an eye towards ISS resupply missions.
Scaled Composits: Has already launched private astronauts into sub-orbital flight with Spaceship One. SpaceshipTwo will soon be launching.
*D.D. Harriman is The Man Who Sold the Moon, a venture capitalist whose personal desire to go into space dragged the human race along with him; A Heinlein character featured in several stories.