After SpaceShipOne was awarded the Ansari X Prize last year, Paul G. Allen became "the best-known member of a growing club of high-tech thrillionaires, including the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who find themselves with money enough to fulfill their childhood fascination with space," reports John Schwartz in today’s New York Times.
The success of private space flight is built on the broken dreams of the government’s space program. Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, a co-founder of the X Prize, says, "There is sufficient wealth controlled by individuals to start serious space efforts." But under NASA’s tenure, "The dreams and expectations that Apollo launched for all these entrepreneurs have failed to materialize. And in fact, those who look into it realize that the cost of going into space has gone up and the reliability has, effectively, gone down."
This article in The New Atlantis by Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, a space advocacy group, "Getting Space Exploration Right," gives an excellent in-depth review of NASA’s shortcomings over the last thirty years. Unfortunately, Zubrin does little to discuss the possibilities of private initiative in space flight.
As shown by the success of the Ansari X Prize, NASA is not the only option. You can read my further reflections on the implications of space travel here, "Stewards of the Cosmos."