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[14 to Watch in 2014]

Robert Bigelow, Aerospace Pioneer

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Danny Hellman

After making a name in real estate development, Robert Bigelow founded Bigelow Aerospace in North Las Vegas “with the express purpose of revolutionizing space commerce via the development of affordable, reliable and robust expandable space habitats” for both national space agencies and corporate clients.

Talk about busting out of your comfort zone.

That was 1999, and the company has been making waves ever since, especially in the area of inflatable spacecraft designed for human crews. Its two Genesis prototypes are still in orbit after deploying in the mid-2000s, and a contract with NASA will culminate in the launch of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module for incorporation into the International Space Station in 2015. Still being developed, Bigelow’s BA 330 is envisioned to function as an independent space station for up to six astronauts. The tech is exciting. But recent headlines about Bigelow Aerospace have focused on the stances Robert Bigelow has taken on intergalactic “property rights.” He believes the private sector would be more inclined to invest in off-planet exploration and experimentation if companies were assured “exclusive zones of operation” on the moon or Mars (or beyond) to ensure no other entities interfere with their missions.

In December, he filed for a payload review with the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, regarding a lunar habitation proposal contingent on that assurance. The outcome could send shock waves through the private spaceflight industry, but even if his big idea doesn’t play this time, Bigelow seems poised to influence our intergalactic future.

NEXT: Robert Hoo, Community Organizer

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Erin got her first newspaper job in 2002 thanks to a campfire story about Bigfoot. In her award-winning work for ...

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