Exclusive: Las Vegas Company Makes Aerospace History - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Investigative Reporter

Exclusive: Las Vegas Company Makes Aerospace History

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The privately funded space program is the work of Bigelow Aerospace and could eventually lead to a hotel in the sky. The privately funded space program is the work of Bigelow Aerospace and could eventually lead to a hotel in the sky.
Only one news team was allowed inside the command center for Wednesday's launch, and that was the I-Team. Only one news team was allowed inside the command center for Wednesday's launch, and that was the I-Team.
The command center inside Bigelow Aerospace looks a bit Star-Trekkish, but the agenda was all too serious. The command center inside Bigelow Aerospace looks a bit Star-Trekkish, but the agenda was all too serious.
Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert Bigelow said, "Expandable systems represent the future in three ways." Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert Bigelow said, "Expandable systems represent the future in three ways."
Tucked inside was a 14-foot long experimental spacecraft called Genesis One, a one-third scale prototype of an expandable space habitat. One, Tucked inside was a 14-foot long experimental spacecraft called Genesis One, a one-third scale prototype of an expandable space habitat. One,

Aerospace history was made by a local company Wednesday morning when an experimental spacecraft blasted into orbit atop a Russian rocket.

The privately funded space program is the work of Bigelow Aerospace and could eventually lead to a hotel in the sky.

News stories don't come much cooler than this.

Thousands of people drive by the Bigelow Aerospace facility in North Las Vegas every day and have no idea about the revolutionary things happening behind the fences. If everything goes according to plan, what happened there Wednesday morning will eventually change the world -- make that "worlds" plural.

The command center inside Bigelow Aerospace looks a bit Star-Trekkish, but the agenda was all too serious. All eyes were focused on events half a world away. A Russian rocket called a Dnepr (nepper) blasted out of a silo at a Siberian military base.

Tucked inside was a 14-foot long experimental spacecraft called Genesis One, a one-third scale prototype of an expandable space habitat that is the lynchpin of what founder Robert Bigelow hopes will be a whole new space race, one that involves private companies instead of governments.

Robert Bigelow said, "Expandable systems represent the future in three ways."

Bigelow launched his personal space program a mere 6.5 years ago and with virtually no fanfare. He and his team took up where NASA left off by designing light, sturdy, expandable space habitats that could house science experiments, commercial businesses and of course, space tourists.

Bigelow made his fortune in the hotel business, so he knows plenty about how to run hotels, even in zero gravity.

The I-Team was allowed to document the progress of the program at different stages as it struggled to overcome bureaucratic hurdles created by NASA and other agencies. Bigelow hired the Russian Kosmotros Company, which is in charge of converting former nuclear missiles into commercial vehicles for carrying all sorts of things into space. That transaction not only took millions of dollars but required the okay of the State Department.

After receiving world from Siberia that the launch went well, the Bigelow team had to wait for several hours to find out whether Genesis One would function and whether it was in the correct orbit. No biggie, all they have riding on it is the future of the company and of space exploration.

Eric Haakonstad, program manager, said, "There has been a lull, not much for the public to be excited about and participate in. This project is changing that."

Robert Bigelow continued, "This is about getting people up there? It is. If we can demonstrate that it's safe and efficient and inexpensive, then it's a big deal."

To our knowledge, Bob Bigelow has never granted an on camera interview, so Wednesday saw more than one first.

It wasn't until just after 2 p.m. that the word came from above that Genesis One was right where it was supposed to be.

The company expects to have its next launch by early December, and while it's going to be a few years before any space tourists make the trip, the very next flight is going to take up mementos from regular folks.

There are a whole lot of Las Vegas style touches in the works that the I-Team will tell you about on Thursday.

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