MYSTERY WIRE — Jeff Bezos and his three passengers returned safely from their brief jaunt into space.
Bezos is one of several billionaires who’ve spent chunks of their personal fortunes on private spacecraft capable of short flights.
But what about longer trips, or a permanent presence in space?
“Well, expectations were high, and they were dramatically exceeded,” Jeff Bezos said after his flight to space.
The crew were thrilled by their brief trip to the edge of space. The same was true for rival billionaire Richard Branson who took his own jaunt earlier this month.
A third billionaire, Elon Musk, has used his vast fortune to develop a now-reliable transport system, SpaceX rockets used by companies and governments to carry satellites into orbit.
Musk eventually wants to establish a human colony on mars. Bezos thinks millions of humans need to move into space permanently in order to save the earth.
All the space billionaires hope space tourism can become a thriving industry. But there was another wealthy entrepreneur who was, for a time, way ahead of the others who was figuring out where all those future space travelers were going to go once in space.
Las Vegas hotel chain founder Robert Bigelow created his own space company back in 1999 using his own money. He used his money to fill a need no one else was addressing, space habitats.
“I’m very happy for Jeff and his team. This was a big day for his company.Robert Bigelow
Jeff and I are not pen pals or anything but we’ve met and talked and exchanged ideas. He invited me to visit his plant years ago when he first started Blue Origin, and then later he came to Las Vegas to take a tour of Bigelow Aerospace. We had dinner and talked about the big picture.
In the next five to ten years, with improved propulsion and transportation systems, we should see a major movement of people and cargo into low Earth orbit (LEO) and then on to the moon. I think Jeff (Bezos) and Elon (Musk) will surpass Boeing and Lockheed as the biggest players in space technology and programs, but no matter who takes the lead, habitat is going to be critical.
Whether you’re talking about low earth orbit or the moon or even Mars, there’s a need for habitats. All of these powerful lift systems (like Space X) will need to do something other than carry more satellites into space. I mean, better satellites are certainly a good thing but that just isn’t enough of a mission to keep the momentum going. We need to have people in space. And humans will need safe and affordable habitats out there, places where people can live and work and play for extended periods of time. “
Bigelow Aerospace was built from scratch to create lightweight, expandable space habitats that could be carried into space at a fraction of the cost of metallic spacecraft.
It would create more space in space. Space for humans to work, live, and take vacations.
“If you look at what the international space station would cost today, people say, well, it would be about $150 billion to build that station, including the transportation of the modules up there,” Bigelow said in a 2019 interview. “And so, if we were to look at what if we created the same volume, which is about 950 cubic meters of habitable volume. And what would it cost us to do that, and it turns out per cubic meter is 1/48 the cost of what the ISS would cost for the same volume.”
That 2019 interview took place inside a scale model of Bigelow’s proposed Olympus spacecraft, one of several different models he and his team designed over the years.
Bigelow spent about $350 million on his plans and paid $20 million apiece for two Russian rockets to carry his first two craft into orbit. Those craft were Genesis One in 2006 and Genesis Two in 2007.
Another of his designs, the Beam, is currently attached to the ISS and was deemed a success by NASA.
During this 2019 interview, 50 NASA engineers were at the Bigelow plant to pour over every inch of a full-size mockup that Bigelow wanted to use as the basis of privately owned space stations that could serve as orbiting labs, workspaces, tourism destinations, or as more permanent habitats on the Moon or Mars.
In his very first on camera interview back in 2006, Bigelow talked about his hopes for more affordable space tourism. “We’re hoping that we can provide a three week visit for somebody in the neighborhood of $8 million, which is a hell of a lot of money. But it’s not as much as $20 million, which other people supposedly have paid the Russians.”
Bigelow optimistically hoped that by 2009, he could have eight private habitats in orbit, but it never happened.
Each new U.S. president scrambled NASA’s priorities; Bigelow told Mystery Wire. He said this led to delays and impediments to private space developments. His work force expanded and contracted several times.
The pandemic proved the final nail. Bigelow Aerospace was shut down. His entire workforce was laid off, and it is unlikely he will ever reopen the plant.
Private space races are risky, even for billionaires, but Robert Bigelow knows the other billionaires in the space game will eventually need to address the missing piece.
If more people are going to spend more time in space, they will need a place to stay.
Bigelow has put forward dozens of ideas to NASA and others about the benefits of expandable habitats, why more “space in space” would protect the health and psychological well-being of humans who spend long periods of time in space, as in missions to Mars.
He previously negotiated preliminary agreements with other governments and companies to provide space habitats that could be leased for extended periods, used as labs, to host experiments, to grow food, to produce materials or pharmaceuticals that cannot be made in Earth’s gravity, and even as a place to produce television programs or movies.