10 Major Players in the Private Sector Space Race

The Ultrawealthy
You can buy a seat to outer space, if your pockets are deep enough. Or you can win one at McDonald's, as Heike Duesterhoeft did in 2013. Her trip is slated for 2014. © Jens Wolf/dpa/Corbis

Where would outrageous capitalist ventures be without the wealthy?

Rich people don't just support the $50,000-diamond-encrusted-Bluetooth-headset market; 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 development cycle, improvement, marketing and sales that gradually produce smaller, better and cheaper products often begin with affluent early adopters.

For now at least, space tourism remains the province of the Midases and market mavens among us. As of January 2012, only seven private citizens had 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 leverage their riches on space travel suggests such a market exists -- a necessary first step toward eventually establishing affordable spaceflight.

Meanwhile, who has the deep-as a-black-hole's-gravity-well pockets necessary to build these space dynasties? You guessed it: the super-rich, 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 names. Speaking of which ...