- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2007

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Just a few years ago, the idea of bankrolling starry-eyed ventures to fly ordinary people into space was laughed off as science fiction.

Now some investors are betting on space tourism as the next big thing. The infant industry got a boost last month when a Boston-area investment group backed a private rocket company developing a spaceship that will take off and land like an airplane.

The deal between Boston Harbor Angels and XCOR Aerospace, thought to be the first investment by a group of so-called angel investors in a commercial launch company, raised hopes that others will follow.

“This industry is going to explode or fizzle,” said John Hallal of the Boston group. “If it’s successful, people will look back and say, ‘These Boston Harbor investors are smart guys.’ If not, it’s not the end of the world.”

Interest in space tourism took off after the 2004 history-making flight of SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded rocket to reach space. The project, entirely financed by Microsoft Corp. co-founder and billionaire entrepreneur Paul Allen, jump-started the new space race.

So far, the field is crowded with do-it-yourself tycoons — think Virgin Group chief Richard Branson and Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos — who are spending their own fortunes in ventures that promise to give civilians their astronaut wings and the chance to float in zero gravity.

The smaller players lacking billionaire backing often turn to the rich for capital. These angel investors often are retirees or wealthy executives searching for hot opportunities. They fill the gap between seed money from “friends, family and fools” and conservative venture capitalists who don’t usually invest until companies are further along.

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