The countdown has begun on a new space race.
This time the pioneers aren't astronauts; they're entrepreneurs, reports CBS News Correspondent Anthony Mason.
Businessman Jim Benson has launched the world's first commercial space exploration company.
He's not in it for the adventure. He's in it for the profit and he says the money to be made amounts to trillions of dollars.
At SpaceDev's headquarters in a San Diego suburb, Benson already has recruited 20 top rocket scientists. He's building his own space center.
His outfit will be able to assemble, test and launch spacecraft and will have a mission control center, he says.
And, Benson can do it all for a quarter of what it costs NASA, he asserts.
Miniaturization and off-the-shelf components are allowing spacecraft to be built that don't cost any more than a private jet or a mega-yacht these days, Benson says.
He'll even have a gift shop for guests. "One fellow wants us to sell golf putters made out of iron meteorites," Benson says.
Scientists say it's no fantasy. "It's critical to understand that commercial space is a reality today and a very, very significant business," says Carissa Christensen, a consultant at Futron Corp.
Last year for the first time, more than half of all launches were not governmental, but commercial, she says.
The commercial segment of the of the industry is growing at a much faster rate, Christensen says.
Satellite launches, for telephones and television, account for much of that growth. But Benson has bigger dreams, like mining asteroids such as the asteroid called 1986 DA, a mile-wide ball of nickel and iron.
It would probably be worth $80 trillion if it were on earth.
There are risks in this gold rush. "If you invest in a satellite operation and the launch fails - and that's rare but it happens - you've lost a huge amount of money, $50 to $75 million," says Christensen.
This past year six major launches have failed in the United States.
"I mean nobody wants a failure. We don't plan to fail but we'll be backed up in case we do. And we'll go out and do it again. And we'll do it again until we are successful," says Benson.
SpaceDev's first mission is slated for this winter. It's Benson's first voyage toward an extraterrestrial economy.
"You know space is just a challenge, that's all," says Benson.
More information on SpaceDev can be found at the company's Web site at spacedev.com.
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