Where would outrageous capitalist ventures be without the wealthy?
Rich people don't just provide a market for $50,000 diamond-encrusted Bluetooth headsets; they're also the consumers who, back in 1984, bought the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X cell phone, a 2-pound (0.9-kilogram) brick costing $3,995 ($8,000-$11,000 in 2012 money). In other words, the cycle of development, improvement, marketing and sales that gradually produces smaller, better and cheaper products often begins with affluent early adopters.
For now at least, space tourism is the province of the Midases and market mavens among us. As of January 2012, only seven private citizens have flown to space on their own dime, and each shelled out tens of millions of dollars for his or her golden ticket to the International Space Station aboard a Russian rocket [source: Chang]. Nevertheless, their resolve to use their riches to reach space is an important indicator that a market exists and, perhaps, the start of the market cycle that one day brings us affordable spaceflight.
Meanwhile, who is building these space-based commercial ventures? You guessed it: the superrich, founders and CEOs of such companies as Microsoft, Amazon, PayPal and Virgin Records. So, as you read on, don't be surprised if you run across some familiar faces.
Speaking of which ...