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The 20th of February, 2012, will be the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. orbital manned spaceflight. To mark the occasion, retired pilot Craig Russell had an over-the-top idea: Reenact astronaut John Glenn?'s mission, but do it with private funding and off-the-shelf technologies.

Ultimately, a lack of funding killed Russell's dream, but don't lose heart. Truth is, if you've got a more practical reason for putting a person in space, there's never been a better time to try. Over the last decade, a broad advance in the commercial availability of aerospace technologies has allowed small private entities to attempt feats that once had been the monopoly of major governments.

In 2012 privately funded human spaceflight will advance from promises and one-off stunts to serious flight-testing of spaceships. Governments will be the biggest customers, with unmanned systems possibly docking with the International Space Station (ISS) this year and perhaps eventually taking the place of the retired U.S. space shuttles. Meanwhile, spacecraft designed to give well-heeled tourists a thrill will be firing up their rockets, letting their passengers enjoy a few minutes of weightlessness, and gliding in for landings.

Indeed, this could be the year that spaceflight moves beyond the 1960s inspirational phrase "man in space" toward a more inclusive one: "Any man or woman in space."

Maybe, but only for the very wealthy.  To read more, click here.