Billionaires often set their sights on space when deciding what to do with their worldly riches. In some cases, their goal is exploration, often for the purpose of detecting life. For others, space travel represents an opportunity to secure humanity’s survival by populating more than one planet. For other billionaires, getting into space is a goal that anyone should be able to achieve for a relatively low cost.
These ideas have long captured people’s imagination on Earth regardless of the specific reason. However, developing vehicles that can carry humans into space will remain in the hands of national governments and very wealthy individuals for the foreseeable future. Billionaires who are currently funding their space exploration programs include Yuri Milner, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson.
Yuri Milner is an entrepreneur who founded DST Global, a leading investment firm that focuses on internet technologies. He and his wife Julia also founded the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, which rewards major contributors in the fields of life sciences, mathematics, and physics. Yuri Milner has also written the Eureka Manifesto, which describes his vision of humanity’s place in the universe.
He announced his plans for space exploration at a summit in 2017, which will search for life beyond Earth. While many missions with this objective have focused on Mars, Yuri Milner plans to send a probe to Enceladus, an airless moon of Saturn with a diameter of only 313 miles. This moon is an attractive exploration site because it has a large liquid ocean, which is the primary requirement for life. Enceladus also has an energy source in the form of geothermal activity, which is also a prime requisite for life.
Elon Musk plans to establish a sustainable colony on Mars, providing humanity with a multi-planetary presence on Mars. He believes that this mission for our civilization is necessary for humanity’s long-term survival. Musk’s program is known as SpaceX, which is developing rockets called Starships that will transport people and cargo through the Solar System.
The timeline for SpaceX has been pushed back several times, but the current schedule is for Starship cargo missions to begin in 2024 at the earliest. Experts believe a Mars colony would require at least 25 years to become self-sufficient after the first manned landing, although Musk hasn’t discussed his plans in detail. However, he has said that a self-sufficient colony on another planet would be one of the great hurdles to becoming an interstellar species. Musk adds that the time we have to do so is extremely uncertain.
Richard Branson and Bert Rutan had a strong aviation background when they founded Virgin Galactic in 2004. Branson founded the Virgin Group during the 1970s, which currently consists of over 400 companies in various fields. Virgin Atlantic is one of the best-known companies in the Virgin Group, although many others are also highly successful. Rutan is an aircraft designer specializing in light, efficient aircraft like the Rutan Voyager, the first plane to fly around the world without refueling.
The vision of Virgin Galactic is to allow an average consumer to travel into space and return to Earth. It uses two vehicles to accomplish this mission: White Knight 2 and Spaceship 2. White Knight 2 is a mother ship that carries Spaceship 2 to an altitude of about 50,000 feet. Spaceship 2 separates from White Knight 2 at that point and completes its journey beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. Spaceship 2 then returns to Earth and lands on its own, as does White Knight 2. Virgin Galactic operates from the Mojave Spaceport in Southern California’s the Mojave Desert.