Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the first manned lunar mission, during which three Apollo 8 astronauts orbited the moon and gave the U.S. a decisive lead in its space race against the Soviet Union. These days, with NASA's milestones receding in the national memory, Russian spaceships are the ones ferrying American astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). If all goes well, that will change in 2018.
This moment is a big one for the handful of companies that have spent much more than a decade working toward commercial spaceflight. Boeing Co. and Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp. are preparing to bring NASA scientists to the ISS by this time next year, not long after five teams race unmanned landers to the moon to win the $20 million Google Lunar XPrize. Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic LLC and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin LLC have suborbital flights scheduled. Rocket Lab USA Inc. and Virgin Orbit, Virgin Galactic's satellite arm, expect to begin launching satellites.