By Michael A. Robinson, Defense and Technology Specialist, Money Morning
Commercial space travel was long confined to the realm of science fiction.
But no more.
With SpaceX's successful rocket launch on May 22, commercial space travel is now a concrete, viable reality… and one that will yield lots of investment opportunities in the very near future.
After a three-day delay, the well-funded startup's private space ship – a gumdrop-shaped capsule called Dragon – rocketed into outer space.
In an article a few weeks ago entitled: "SpaceX Picks Up Where NASA Left Off"- I predicted the venture would succeed.
Now that it has, I believe this event will serve as the tipping point for the whole commercial space sector.
And to think, we have a small group of billionaire investors to thank for it all…
SpaceX Opens the Door to a New Age
A handful of visionary leaders, drawn mostly from the high-tech sector, make up what I have come to call the "New Gilded Age."
For those of you who may not recall from your school days and history classes, the first Gilded Age happened in late 1800s America.
Back then, a select few wealthy men made enormous fortunes for themselves in oil, steel, and the like, and used part of that money to help build the nation.
They built the railroads and the telegraph system. They also donated huge sums to U.S. colleges to vault those institutions of learning well ahead of those in Europe. All of which set the stage for the huge economic boom that helped launch America as a global power.
I contend that the same thing is happening again.
Before I explain, I want to point out something about the first "Gilded Age."
It was Mark Twain who first coined the term in 1873 as his critique of the times. He wanted the reader to infer that the age was sparkling and new only on theoutside.
Twain believed thatbeneath the veneer of "gold" lay ugly behavior, corruption, and a lack of business ethics.
Later, in fact, these same capitalists who helped build the nation were accused of being "Robber Barons," who used questionable methods to amass their wealth.
I don't mean to imply any such thing about the six men I'm highlighting today.
In the New Gilded Age, this group of billionaires by and large made their money from computers and the Web. Now they are leading us further into space with new rockets, satellites, and advanced robots.
No doubt this will set the stage for a new round of growth over the next few decades and further into the Era of Radical Change.
These are the leaders who will help change the world as we know it… and make their investors a lot of money.
That's because, where others see pitfalls, they see profits.
At a time when NASA faces big budget constraints, they are taking up the slack. And they have a bigger goal: to ensure that America remains the leading space nation.
More to the point, we want to keep an eye on the members of the New Gilded Age, because wherever they go, profits will follow.
The Six Giants of the New Space Race
Here they are…
New Gilded Age Leaders No. 1 and 2: Page and Brin
I consider Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG), to be the leaders of the movement.
Both men are gadget freaks who like to shoot for the stars. Right now, they're backing an effort to create an elevator that will literally lift passengers into outer space.
They're also the main force behind the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize. Brin and Page have promised to hand $20 million to the team that can land a robot on the moon and have it travel at least 1,650 feet across the surface and send high-def images and video back to Earth. Brin and Page have set aside another $10 million for second place and for such other breakthroughs as proving that the moon has water.
New Gilded Age Leader No. 3: Bezos
The Web gave rise to this next member of the New Gilded Age, too. He is Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), the world's largest online store.
In 2000, Bezos also founded Blue Origin LLC to develop a vertical takeoff and landing rocket ship. The idea is to fly passengers and astronauts to suborbital space. It has received NASA funding to compete to become a "taxi service" now that the Space Shuttle has retired.
New Gilded Age Leader No. 4: Diamandis
Though he is far from the wealthiest member of the New Gilded Age, Peter Diamandis clearly belongs on the list. He's done as much as anyone to jumpstart the sector.
Consider that he is a founder and serves as co-chair of Planetary Resources Inc. (the sky-mining startup I told you about). In late April, the firm announced plans to land on asteroids and mine them for resources like water, precious metals and rare earths.
He's involved in many other space ventures. My favorite is the Rocket Racing League. Think of it as a cross between NASCAR and pod racing in the Star Wars movies.
But Diamandis is best known as the backer of the $10 million Ansari X Prize. This remains a key event in commercial space travel. According to the foundation, it went to "the first private team to build and launch a spacecraft capable of carrying three people to 100 kilometers above the Earth's surface, twice within two weeks." Awarded in 2004, the prize showed the private sector could succeed where only NASA had gone before.
In fact, that award is what helped put our next leader on the list…
New Gilded Age Leader No. 5: Allen
Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) co-founder Paul Allen won the Ansari X Prize by teaming up with aerospace designer Burt Rutan. But Allen didn't stop there.
Last December, he and Rutan launched a new space firm. Stratolaunch Systems will use a huge aircraft to launch rockets into space that will deliver cargo satellites. Later, the firm intends to take people on space flights.
And let's not forget the man who just brought commercial space travel to life with SpaceX.
New Gilded Age Leader No. 6: Musk
A native of South Africa, Elon Musk serves as SpaceX's CEO. He founded the firm back in 2002 with $100 million of his own money.
Not that he was hurting for cash…
Musk had earlier co-founded PayPal and sold the firm to Ebay Inc. (Nasdaq: EBAY) for $1.5 billion. Before that, he and his brother had launched a software firm they sold for $300 million.
He hasn't yet announced plans to take SpaceX public, but I believe that's what he'll do. I base that on what happened with his Tesla Motors Inc. (Nasdaq: TSLA), the high-end electric car firm he took public two years ago.
Musk seems to think there's almost no problem we can't overcome. I agree with him.
Musk and these other leaders are the type of bright young people that make me so optimistic about our nation's future.
So, if you want to find a way to profit from the next generation of tech breakthroughs, the Era of Radical Change is a great place to start.
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