As of spring 2012, Virgin Galactic has sold 550 commercial tickets to space. Well, it’s gathered the required $20,000 deposit from such well-known celebrity passengers as Stephen Hawking, Ashton Kutcher, Katy Perry, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The total ticket cost is just a measly $200,000 a seat.

These are cheaper than the average going rate now, which ranges anywhere from $500,000 to $2 million … just for a seat … into space. These celebrities will ride Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two, or SS2, on a sub-orbital flight that will only reach 62 miles above sea level, not breaking the atmosphere completely or making a full round trip around Earth’s orbit. During the flight, there will be six minutes of weightlessness during which passengers may leave their seats and “float around.”

It’s the ideal celebrity get together: Famous people float around in space together for six minutes, laughing, talking, enjoying the finer things in life.

It will only take about 2.5 hours (just a little longer than it takes to get from Denver to Chicago via airplane) to get sub-orbital, and the SS2 will be in orbit around the Earth for even less time than that.

These aircraft aren’t exactly like those in “Apollo 13.” The actual passenger compartment and vehicle is more like a giant plane that takes off from a runway, but the main distinction Virgin Galactic boasts — created by Space X (Space Exploration Technologies Corp.) — is a reusable rocket-launch system that’s called the Grasshopper. Basically, Space X created reusable rockets named nerdily and somewhat forebodingly (White Knight Two) that stand about 10 stories high and can propel these giant passenger space crafts into space like any normal NASA rocket technology. The difference is  these rockets return to the launch pad using guided systems and steel-fortified legs with hydraulic dampers to land safely a la grasshopper style.

It’s all privatized because the problem governments have historically had with space programs, launches and technology has always been money, a problem the private sector just doesn’t have. It costs billions of dollars alone to launch a single rocket or satellite into space. Especially with this economy, the U.S. government, for example, can’t put billions of dollars of funding into NASA. This is especially true because many of the country’s leaders don’t think the Final Frontier is worth exploring.

When the problem is money, governments and world-governing forces turn to private companies, and companies like Virgin Galactic and Space X are ripe and ready to take up the billion-dollar industry and even, gasp, help governments in the process. The Grasshopper technology and other “private” innovations are a godsend for these companies and sometimes governments, as new technology is what will likely fix the money problem.

It’s a historical trend: Exploration spurred by commercial motives. Now with private companies taking over the space sector, the beautiful, majestic frontier where (some believe) all of the mysteries of everything could exist faces … well, drive down an American highway. Just imagine space dotted with advertisements and banners for all of the new colonies playing commercials on loud speakers or digital screens. All of this because the government stepped aside and allowed companies to conquer, colonize and eventually govern space.

And with plenty of those private companies’ CEOs also in the world’s governments, government contracts to said companies to meteorite mine for resources governments just can’t afford provides even more appeal. Hell, it’s not just CEOs, it’s time to face the fact that all it takes is a few billion to sway any government one way or another. For example, Space X has used its rocket, the Dragon, twice already to bring aid to the international space station. This is the first time a private company has provided aid in space, it probably won’t be the last, and it sure as fuck wasn’t cheap.

The jurisdiction on owning space is murky at best — the U.N. has laws that make it illegal to own any property in space to prevent wars or future conflicts over the possible valuable land and/or resources — and laws have yet to stop certain companies from making cash off of space and its countless endeavors. Still, ample websites will sell you a piece of land on the moon for about $20, giving you a certificate that labels you “a proud owner of an acre of the moon,” without any “legal” right to do so. These websites thrive because there’s nothing the government can truly do about it.

This is the boggling part of the whole privatization of space as governments start to recognize the planet’s resource scarcity problem. They want to explore space’s resources but need private-sector money to do so, so the United States just … stopped. It left it to the private sector for economic reasons, which is both good and bad for everyone involved.

History reveals when a government is the gatekeeper to colonization and settlement, progress is typically brought to a grinding halt. This is a legit issue when dealing with space. Historically and typically, when governments stepped aside, frontiers had been tamed to manageable prospects and human settlements flourished. For example, the United States and the break from British rule that allowed states to explode with growth even before an official government formed. But space isn’t settled. Without private entities taking growth and exploration into their own hands, progress comes excruciatingly slowly. With private companies taking it into their own hands, it’s a crap shoot as to who will get the short end of the space-resources stick. So companies sell moon lots and Space X becomes the Walmart/McDonalds of space travel. It does it quick and cheap, and world citizens can only hope it’s not done dirtily.

Space X has guaranteed cheaper launches and is working with governments to send astronauts into space, even promising another mission to the moon within this decade. The company appears eager to send the first tourists to Mars. Richard Bransen and Virgin Galactic are so ready to start sending celebrities, scientists and anyone willing to pay for a ticket into space that they’ve created The Spaceship Company, building fleets of commercial spaceships and launching aircraft. Basically, Virgin — or Sir Richard Bransen — wants to make commercial flights into space a reality as soon as possible. They have runways/space stations already set up in New Mexico and California and plan to move some operations to Sweden and other parts of Europe. Their deadline for commercial flights into space was originally two years from September 2009. As of now, they have successfully launched SS2 15 times attached to the WhiteKnightTwo and have even run 16 glide tests.

It’s coming. The final frontier is merely years away. Where it goes from there is entirely up to whoever has the biggest pockets and the best business plan.