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Is Richard Branson the Christopher Columbus of space?

Nicole Goodkind
Nicole Goodkind
Daily Ticker

The final frontier is finally being…frontiered. Last week both Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX made large strides in their quest to privatize space for both civilians and astronauts alike.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic was cleared by the FAA for takeoff last Thursday. Branson’s commercial space airliner expects to launch its first flights out of New Mexico by the end of 2014. Nearly 600 people have paid $250,000 to board the shuttle, which will orbit 60 miles above Earth.

SpaceX also revealed the second version of its Dragon spaceship on Thursday. The ship can hold up to six astronauts and claims to have the landing accuracy of a helicopter. It will go on its first test flight by 2016. SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA for 12 deliveries and the space company plans to use the ships to get to the International Space Station.

Related: Virgin Galactic CEO: We Can Absolutely Go to Mars

Other companies also have space initiatives — Google is financing missions to mine asteroids, and in what seemed like a PR stunt but wasn’t, PayPal announced Thursday that it would launch an intergalactic payment service for buying things in space.

Space tourism and the space economy appear to be very real and very imminent.  

“It’s great to see private industry and entrepreneurs tackling this problem," says The Daily Ticker's Henry Blodget. "Now you have folks with the capital and the technology is getting cheap enough."

Blodget compares this space exploration to the spirit of 15th and 16th century Europe, when explorers were sailing out over “the edges of the Earth to discover new things…it took a long time to do it but eventually the world was colonized.”

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