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The space race goes private

Tesla in space
A Tesla roadster, launched by SpaceX, heads toward Mars. Photo: SpaceX via Getty Images

SpaceX made headlines last week for launching the world's most powerful rocket — as a private company, not a superpower government. But the private space race isn't new. For decades, companies have been just steps behind NASA, manufacturing, launching and operating their own satellites and rockets. What sets SpaceX's launch apart is the ambition of its goal: sending people to Mars.

The bottom line: Corporations have accessed and used space alongside governments since the 1960s — but now companies are on the front lines of innovation.