Much of the attention in the new space race has been focused on old hands like Lockheed Martin and Boeing, both of whom boast five-decade-long track records building airplanes and spacecraft with NASA [sources: Chang; NASA]. Not surprisingly, the two legacies remain major players.
Lockheed Martin -- which has built every aeroshell flown by NASA to Mars, from Viking to the Curiosity rover -- was responsible for two spacecraft inserted into lunar orbit in January 2012, and is developing the Orion crew capsule for NASA's Space Launch System [source: Lockheed Martin].
In October 2011, Boeing signed a 15-year lease to use a space shuttle hangar at Kennedy Space Center to build and oversee its Crew Space Transportation-100 (CST-100) spacecraft. NASA has funded the ship via its Commercial Crew Development program to the tune of $110 million.
Meanwhile, United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, continues to build Atlas V rockets, the platform on which several commercial ventures plan to launch their space planes or crew capsules. The mainstay rocket all but guarantees United Launch Alliance a future place at the table.
The question is, will such strong ties to the old guard -- and the old school -- help carry the companies to the stars, or strap them to a sinking ship?
To help answer that, let's look at how another old government sector workhorse has changed with the times: by spawning a yearling space company.