A mere five years ago, Bigelow, owner of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, announced his intention to get into the space race. Not many people paid attention, or gave him much of a chance. But 16 months from now, Bigelow’s first creation is scheduled for blast-off into a low orbit above the earth. If it works as planned, the development of space will never be the same.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Bigelow received a VIP invitation to the debut of SpaceShipOne. He not only knows Burt Rutan well, but knows that the future of Bigelow Aerospace may be inextricably linked to the success of people like Rutan. Rutan and 25 other groups around the world are competing for the X Prize, a $10 million award that will go to the first team to build a private, reusable spaceship. Assuming that some of these spacecraft really do work, they will need someplace to go once they get into orbit. That’s where Bigelow comes in.

Few journalists have been allowed inside the secure confines of the 50-acre “space campus” Bigelow Aerospace has built in North Las Vegas, and with good reason. Bigelow has long shunned any kind of publicity for himself, and since he is investing up to $500 million of his personal fortune into the aerospace company, he’s reluctant to give away too much information to potential competitors. It’s the same reason his facility is surrounded by fences, gates, cameras and an imposing security force made up of ex-military types.

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