for National Geographic News
A half-century ago the Russian satellite Sputnik 1 launched the world into an international space race (see a photo of Sputnik).
Today a new era of competition to break through the planet's atmosphere has begun, sparking visions of what human space travel will look like 50 years in the future. (See photos of what space travel might look like over the next 50 years.)
The governments of the United States, India, China, and Japan have each announced high-profile plans to send humans back to the moon for the first time since Apollo 17 landed there in 1972.
Some of these projects involve building permanent lunar settlements that will serve as science stations as well as testing grounds for technology to send pioneering astronauts to Mars.
And renewed interest in space travel has already laid the foundations for a multibillion-U.S.-dollar entertainment and tourism industry, said Peter Diamandis, chair and CEO of the X Prize Foundation.
Historians of the future might call it the second space race—although this time the competition will be among private entrepreneurs as well as government agencies.
The next generations of rockets and shuttles along with tourist-friendly spaceports across the globe could eventually make space vacations as routine as a trip to Disneyland.
NASCAR in Space
For example, Diamandis will soon wave the starting flag for his latest venture, the Rocket Racing League.
This NASCAR-like competition features rocket-powered jets that resemble the podracers in the Stars Wars prequel The Phantom Menace.
The racers will be piloted by real people flying along preset courses plotted by computers, and online spectators will also have the option to add virtual rockets to the event.
"Fans playing on the Internet will be able to compete [against the] real rockets," Diamandis said.
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