The earliest chapters of the space race were filled with epic tales of man’s first experiences traveling beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Sadly, there were several decades where the spirit of exploration and efforts to reach space slowed dramatically. In the last few years, that’s changed. The focus on putting men into space has been reignited as a “new space race.”  What are some of the players in this race? We’ve got an overview for you.

Government agencies in space

Just like in the 1960s, government agencies are some of the primary players in man’s reaches into space. More than 70 countries claim to have a space program including France, India, Korea, Isreal, Iran, and Japan. Only three, however, have fully evolved programs capable of sending humans into space. These are Russia, China, and the United States.

What have these three countries been up to? Russia regularly sends humans into orbit and to the international space station, charing other countries some serious money if they want to have one of their astronauts catch a ride there. China has been making space strides also and in January of 2019 became the first nation to land on the far side of the moon. It is also creating a space station of its own, called Tiangong 3.

The United States is looking to hold its own in the efforts to explore beyond Earth. A sign of this is a recently accelerated timeline to return humans to the moon, moving this up by four years from an expected 2028 effort to 2024. This mission is expected to include the first female to land on the moon and as such its significantly named after Artemis, the sister of Apollo for whom the 1960’s modules were named after. The US is also working on creating an orbiter to explore deeper areas of space beyond our planet.

Private agencies in space

In addition to government agencies, there’s no shortage of private agencies looking to send cargo, astronauts, and tourists into space. This portion of the space race could almost be nicknamed “the billionaire’s space race.” Its most well-known participants are the likes of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson. The participation of these men and their companies shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. Sending people into space provides tons of prestige and plenty of money, with charges for space activity regularly reaching billions of dollars.

What are the companies connected to these billionaires and what are they doing? Elon Musk’s company SpaceX is developing the powerful Falcon series of rockets that regularly launch cargo such as satellites/satellite parts and space station supplies, into space. They’re also focusing on space tourism too, announcing the selection of their first non-astronaut to take part in a voyage around the moon that is scheduled for 2023.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are also focusing on space tourism, starting with trips into suborbital space. A Blue Origin space rocket was the first to reach the Karman Line, a scientifically agreed upon the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and space. Branson’s company is also proceeding with plans to send ordinary humans into space. They’re testing commercial flights with exciting results and actively recruiting customers. To date, more than 58 people from 200 countries have paid or put down deposits for their seat on a flight.

Who will win the space race?

Who will win the modern space race? That’s a tough prediction to make. However, what is know is that the work to explore beyond our planet is the latest example of the human need to reach beyond where we are now. This has been true when ancient humans set out to leave their settlements, when groups of people set out by ship to find new continents, and when more recent humans explored the most inhospitable areas of the planet. Whatever agency or country “wins” this race, what’s true is that the human race, as a whole, will have reached further than we were before we started.