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Star trek

Technology | Space race heats up among millionaire entrepreneurs

Issue: "Francis Schaeffer's legacy," March 26, 2005

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos bought 165,000 acres of remote land in West Texas as part of his secretive plan to build a spaceport for commercial flights beyond the skies.

This is only one of several projects being built by high-tech elites, who are dumping fortunes into private space travel, an industry that is as unregulated as it is unproven.

Mr. Bezos rarely discusses his dream, named Blue Origin, but he apparently plans flight tests in several years of spaceships that launch and land vertically.

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Another internet-whiz-turned-space-entrepreneur is PayPal founder Elon Musk, whose California-based startup, SpaceX, plans to launch and deploy a military satellite later this year. Meanwhile, video-game developer John Carmack wants to launch rockets with a Dallas company called Armadillo Aerospace.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen increased interest in commercial space flight when his $20 million SpaceShipOne rocket plane reached the edge of space last fall.

Billionaire Richard Branson is so confident about space tourism that his Virgin Galactic is already taking reservations. The company plans to offer 2.5-hour trips starting in 2008, with seats selling for $200,000 each.

Child-proof cell phones

Firefly Mobile is offering cell phones with only five keys for dialing numbers. They aren't for ordinary users, but for parents to give children as a way to safeguard their use.

Firefly's two-ounce handset is built for kids between ages 8 and 12. It blinks when the phone rings and glows in the dark.

Parents use a PIN number to program up to 22 acceptable numbers for outgoing calls, with Mom and Dad getting their own speed-dial settings and a special button for 911. These phones can also optionally screen incoming calls, restricting them to a preselected list.

Firefly currently sells its phones through a few regional providers and plans a national launch in May. It offers phones as part of a calling plan and eventually plans a prepaid version. The handsets will sell for around $100.

Firefly's big challenge will be convincing kids not to scoff at the mobile equivalent of training wheels. For some families, a restricted phone like this may be the only option that allows children to make wireless calls without risking calls to or from strangers.

Bits & Megabytes

· Consumer spending for online content grew 14 percent last year to $1.8 billion, according to the Online Publishers Association, a trade group. OPA President Michael Zimbalist attributed the rise to increasing high-speed connections and consumers' willingness to pay more for better content.

· About six in 10 cell-phone users say seeing other people take calls in public irritates them, according to a University of Michigan poll. Also, eight in 10 said cell phones are a major safety hazard if used while driving.

· Federal regulators say they want to stop an online vendor from offering a free computer scan that finds "spyware" that isn't there, then charges $29.95 for its security software. The FTC convinced a U.S. District Court in Spokane to issue a restraining order halting deceptive claims from the Spyware Assassin site-and now wants the scheme permanently stopped.

· AOL is launching a net-based phone service, letting users make cheap calls by connecting their regular phones to their broadband lines. Following companies like Vonage and AT&T, this venture will compete for customers with traditional local networks. The AOL offering is set to debut in specific cities, then roll out into more areas.

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