If you follow space-industry news, you already know about this. SpaceX, the private space-launch outfit founded by Internet billionaire Elon Musk, has unveiled their newest rocket, and it's a doozy. The Falcon Heavy can put fifty tons into orbit, for about a thousand dollars a pound. That's a lot of payload: the mighty Saturn V Moon rocket had a low-orbit payload of about 100 tons, so you could put together a pretty good manned space mission with a couple of Falcons. Or launch a small space station.
The size isn't the really big deal. The Saturn was hoisting bigger loads forty years ago and the Russian Energia can still out-lift the Falcon today. What is impressive is the cost. A thousand bucks a pound was the (entirely mythical) cost aim of the Space Shuttle program back in the 1980s. That was the threshold for "cheap access to space." At that level private groups like the Mars Society could quit lobbying Congress for NASA funding and just launch their own goddamned Mars missions.
Well, it looks like we've may have reached that point at last. The Space Age may finally be leaving its "pioneer era" and entering something more like the "airmail era" of the 1920s. Virgin Galactic just flew a spaceship to its new terminal in San Francisco and plans to operate suborbital flights from there beginning next year. For space enthusiasts, things are definitely looking up.