At the risk of showing my age, when I read yesterday's story on Space Adventures Limited's plans to sell tickets for a Soyuz encapsulated trip to the moon, two words popped into my head: Space 1999. Thirty years ago, this sci-fi series postulated a human colony on the surface of our little pockmarked satellite, nuclear waste buried far from Yucca Mountain preservation activists, and Eagle spaceships ferrying astronauts hither and yon.
Fast forward three decades and what've we got? Housing crises in California and D.C., a decades-long embargo on new nuke plants, a space program threatened with extinction by Styrofoam, and what Jon Stewart famously termed "Shuttle schmutz." Meanwhile, the Moon-based real estate market remains on ice, and there's nary an Eagle to be seen.
Which is why it's great to see the spirit of entrepreneurialism offering us a second chance to catch up with our collective unfulfilled dreams. Earlier this week, Space Adventures announced that it will partner with Russia's federal space agency to send two lucky (and wealthy) individuals on a two-week voyage to the stars and back. For a cost of $100 million (each, please, and no personal checks), the company will strap two billionaires inside a 1960s-era Soyuz space capsule and rocket them off for a loop around the moon.
Which two lucky billionaires will go has yet to be determined, but Space Adventures has a marketing list of 1,000 potential billionaire candidates already drawn up. One suspects that Microsoft alum Paul Allen is near the top of that list; he's already contributed over $20 million to the cause, yet hasn't so much as a canceled ticket stub to show for it.
Sure, at $100 million a pop, this is hardly a market for the masses -- yet. But remember, it's early financing by wealthy early adopters that makes dreams affordable for average Joes and Janes -- and the investors who own the companies that sell to them. Space Adventures says the initial $200 million trip will cover not only the basic costs, but all the R&D necessary to figure out how to make these trips work. After that first trip (assuming it's successful), the price should begin to drop steeply, and the market should gradually open up.
This, Fools, is how new markets are born. Granted, a lunar tourism market of any appreciable size remains decades away. But as NASA becomes ever more gun-shy in its ambitions, the space-based revenue streams of companies as small as SpaceDev (OTC BB: SPDV) and as large as Lockheed
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Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any of the companies mentioned in this article.