Throughout history, space has intrigued mankind. Ancient monuments are aligned with the sun, moon, and stars.

Navigators throughout history have studied the stars to find their way across oceans. Artists, poets, and authors have been inspired by the beauty of celestial bodies.

Those of my generation were riveted to television sets as children to watch the progression from brief ventures into the unknown, to orbits of the earth, to landing on the moon. Over the past few decades, space exploration and the associated government-funded research process has generated thousands of discoveries which enhance our daily lives. More recently, the private sector has taken a larger role, and commercial space ventures are growing in importance.

Space programs and the supporting research and development projects have led to technological advances improving lives every day. In the area of health and wellness, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)-supported discoveries have resulted in better endoscopes, an app to aid sleep, algae-derived supplements loaded with bioavailable Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) to enhance human health, and devices to improve injury recovery and vision.  Airplane fuel efficiency can be boosted while reducing noise through NASA-related findings. The agency’s huge databank of earth imaging is being used to identify underground sources of water.

NASA-related technologies in consumer goods also abound, ranging from speakers incorporating magnetized fluid for better sound to a device to improve your golf swing. An air scrubber developed to allow astronauts to grow food in space can be installed in your home to reduce odors and germs. Special Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights developed to help astronauts rest better are now installed in hotels, resorts, and other place to help guests feel more rested. There are countless additional examples of commercialization of discoveries; for a look, go to NASA’s spinoff website ( In addition to enhancing quality of life, these discoveries have resulted in economic growth, productivity enhancement, and the development of entire industries in some cases.

The decades-long space program is also the foundation for the emergence of private-sector efforts. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) established its Office of Commercial Space Transportation in the mid-1980s to oversee the development of the industry. According to the FAA’s year in review report for 2014, the United States, Russia, Europe, China, Japan, India, Israel, and multinational provider Sea Launch conducted a total of 92 orbital launches, up from 81 in 2013. Of these, 23 were commercial, with 11 of them in the United States. NASA used commercial services for five missions to resupply the International Space Station. In addition, private-sector firms were hired to launch payloads for clients including various types of satellites.

With the commercialization of launching payloads and the associated decline in costs, possibilities are opening up for nations without space programs and additional corporate clients. For example, smaller countries now have a greater capacity to launch and use satellites for communications and other needs. The private sector is developing ways to use data collected from space for a number of purposes ranging from counting cars in parking lots to assess shopper patterns to determining when corn is likely to ripen.

Another area on the verge of reality is the ability to purchase a ticket for a flight in space. Only about 550 people have actually gone to space over the decades of space exploration, but that figure is likely to increase notably once commercial space flights are available. Companies such as XCOR Aerospace, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic have developed vehicles which can take passengers into space, return and land, and be reused with minimal refurbishing. The cost is high ($100,000 to $250,000 for a few minutes of time in space), but I have no doubt that it would be an incredible experience and there are doubtless people who could and would pay the price.  While this segment of the industry may not at first glance seem as likely to result in spinoff technologies, research and development to ensure the safety, comfort, and convenience of passengers will doubtless benefit all astronauts as well as travelers of other types.

With a large NASA presence in Houston, Texas has long been a center for space-related activity. The FAA issued a commercial spaceport license to Midland International Airport last fall, the first time an airport with regular passenger air service has also been cleared to host spaceships. XCOR Aerospace is establishing a research and development presence in Midland and plans to use Midland’s airport to launch its commercial spaceflights. SpaceX develops and tests rockets in McGregor, has an office in Houston, and is building a launch facility near Brownsville. Blue Origin is backed by founder Jeff Bezos and has its launchpad near Van Horn in far west Texas. There are many other companies also locating space-related facilities in the Lone Star State, and the economic impact of these firms continues to grow.

Space (and the idea of exploring space) has fascinated mankind for centuries. Now, thanks to decades of government funded research and the transfer of thousands of discoveries and ideas into the private sector, space travel and exploration is being commercialized. The result is thousands of jobs, billions in investment, enhanced quality of life and productivity, and much more.