Earth Launch of Humans
There are many cargo launchers in this world from various countries, but not many human launchers. It would digress from the focus of this website to cover all cargo launch. However, space colonization will require launch of humans.
This page will focus on launch of people.
At the moment of this writing, in 2012, only the Russians and Chinese have the capability to launch humans into orbit, after the Space Shuttle was retired.
NASA is encouraging the development of private sector human launch for US based companies.
There are enough wealthy people in this world that it could be that the all-too-human desire for selfish "space tourism" makes a difference in the promotion of space colonization, one way or another. While commercial utilization of space resources will create a demand for worker colonies, and there may be other motivations as well, it may turn out that space tourism or space settlers as consumers contribute to space colonization.
However, where will space tourists go? If they want to live in space for a long time, then we will need a lot of radiation shielding, farms, water, and other supplies, which is best provided from asteroids near Earth and the Moon, not expensively launched up from Earth, but that is the topic of another main section of this website on space colonies and habitats.
Here, we will focus on Earth launch of humans.
There is no need to "wait" for a new Earth launcher to lower the cost or increase capacity or provide any special needs for space resources, for either cargo or humans. There are no vital dependencies on new launchers.
We could open up space resources with existing Russian human launch, or even Chinese and upcoming American launch. (As of the time of this writing, in late 2011, the Space Shuttle has been retired and the US has no other domestic human launch capability.)
Many Earth launch enterprises self-promote themselves as necessary for so many new things in space, but in reality they usually are not "necessary" and they are just offering to marginally reduce costs or add some new features. They usually present very interesting new potential value, but people saying they are "necessary" are overselling.
While Earth launch is expensive, it is not what stops us from developing space resources. In fact, the cost of launch is a small part of the overall cost, and there are countless much larger projects on Earth such as offshore oil platforms, large real estate projects, and other things which cost much more than space resources would. There are countless extremely wealthy people who could fund space resources all on their own.
Talk aside, organizations and individuals are simply not choosing to commit a philanthropic investment in space resources, though they are investing in space tourism.
Nevertheless, this page will cover some of the relevant Earth launch companies, but mainly by links to their websites and to third party websites covering Earth launch.
There are already many websites which cover Earth launch, a very popular topic due to both people interested in space tourism ("I want to go" ...) and a far bigger group interested in commercial launches, both of which usually have little if any mention of lunar and asteroidal resources. On the PERMANENT website, we focus on space resources, not Earth launch, so we do not reinvent the wheel in discussing what so may other websites cover, whereby discussion of Earth launch here is limited to how it relates to lunar and asteroidal resources.
NASA Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) Program
With the retirement of the Space Shuttle, NASA had no more capability to launch humans into space. However, NASA had been turning to the private sector to develop human launch capability, which would lead to the first private sector launching of people ever. This program is called the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.
The following space launch companies and contractors are participating and competing in the Commercial Crew Development program:
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