Bigelow grew up in Las Vegas, attended Highland Elementary School, and was first exposed to science through witnessing—from a distance—a number of the atomic tests conducted about 70 miles northwest of the city. Bigelow recounts that at age 12 he "decided that his future lay in space travel, despite his limitations [in mathematics, and] he resolved to choose a career that would make him rich enough that, one day, he could hire the scientific expertise required to launch his own space program. Until then, he would tell no one—not even his wife—about his ultimate goal."
In his real estate career, Bigelow built approximately 15,000 units, and purchased another 8,000. For most of his career, "he held on to almost everything he bought, but ... eventually unload[ed] much of his housing stock in the boom years immediately before the 2008 crash." In 2013, Bigelow reflected on this: "People just really wanted to throw money away, ... So that was lucky."
^ abcRobison, Jennifer (2013-03-10). "Nevadan at Work: To the moon and beyond for Las Vegas developer". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved 2014-06-16. "Question: Why did you go into real estate and hotel development first? Answer: No bucks, no "Buck Rogers." You could take the path of science and work your way theoretically into that world as an individual, but I had fantasies of having the financial capacity to hire a group to make something happen. ... [Space] transportation is not what we (at Bigelow [Aerospace]) do. We focus on the destination."