In case you missed it on the magazine racks, you can read the complete text of my March cover story for Air & Space magazine at airspacemag.com.
Eric Anderson pioneered the commercial space flight industry, before anyone knew it could be a real business. His company, Space Adventures, brokered the deal that launched the first citizen to pay his own way into space. Before Dennis Tito headed for the International Space Station in 2001, the whole idea of commercial space flight seemed absurd to most of the presumed experts. Human space flight was for major governments only.
Eric Anderson and Space Adventures changed the way we think about space and opened the door to today’s burgeoning commercial space flight industry. Never mind whether the technology exists or can be developed, there is no business without a market. Anderson and company established that market, allowing capital to flow into the commercial space ventures that followed.
For the first time, you can read the full story here; how Anderson came up from ordinary means in Colorado to bootstrap what most people thought was an impossible enterprise. How he convinced the Russian space agency to sell seats on the Soyuz spacecraft. How a potential investor turned into customer number one.
I’ve admired Anderson since I met him in the early 2000s. His tenacity, his quiet faith in his ideas, in the steady push that can send a boulder rolling down a slope, inspired me from the beginning.
After sending seven customers to the International Space Station, including a repeat, Anderson’s pushing out beyond low Earth orbit. Space Adventures’ next conquest is nothing short of the moon. If all goes well, a flyby mission duplicating the feat of Apollo 8 will send two paying customers and a professional cosmonaut around the back side of the moon for a view only 27 human beings have ever seen.
Anderson says he’s got the first customer signed up and his company is just waiting for the second to sign on the dotted line for a $150+ million commitment before announcing that the mission is a “Go.” Until then he’s not telling who even that first customer is, though some have pointed out that blockbuster film director and space enthusiast James Cameron has the means and the interest.
Anderson himself isn’t content to be Earthbound much longer. He’s teamed with that repeat orbital customer, Charles Simonyi, to head up Intentional Software, with the goal of making the fortune he needs to buy his own ticket to orbit and beyond.
Sometimes the most powerful innovations are not new technologies, but a way to change a mindset. Humans went to the moon with 1960s technology. They’ll do it again with machines that have changed little since then. But in proving the business case for human space flight beyond low Earth orbit, they’ll open the door to a whole new wave of innovation.