SpaceX opens era of amateur astronauts, cosmic movie sets

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FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 28, 2019 file photo, Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, poses for a photo outside the New York Stock Exchange as fireworks are exploded before his company's IPO. In 2020, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said space is currently a $400 billion market, including satellites. Opening up spaceflight to paying customers, he said, could expand the market to $1 trillion. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.SpaceX’s debut astronaut launch is the biggest, most visible opening shot yet in NASA’s grand plan for commercializing Earth’s backyard.

Amateur astronauts, private space stations, flying factories, out-of-this-world movie sets — this is the future the space agency is striving to shape as it eases out of low-Earth orbit and aims for the moon and Mars.

It doesn’t quite reach the fantasized heights of George Jetson and Iron Man, but still promises plenty of thrills.

“I’m still waiting for my personal jetpack. But the future is incredibly exciting,” NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren said the day before SpaceX’s historic liftoff.

NASA astronaut Nicole Mann, who will test drive Boeing’s space capsule next year, envisions scientists, doctors, poets and reporters lining up for rocket rides.

“I see this as a real possibility,” she said. “You’re going to see low-Earth orbit open up.”

The road to get there has never been so crowded, with Elon Musk’s SpaceX company leading the pack.

A week ago, SpaceX became the first private company to send people into orbit, something accomplished by only three countries in nearly 60 years. The flight to the International Space Station returned astronaut launches to the U.S. after nine long years.