Day-trip to the moon anyone?
Forget the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt, and the Colossus of Rhodes.
Imagine seeing all seven wonders of the world in one go, from space.
In nine years’ time, the space tourism market is expected to be worth over $3 billion. So, flying into space or orbiting the Earth is becoming a real possibility for the likes of me and you.
In fact, you could book yourself onto a space flight right now.
Really?! Isn’t it incredibly unsafe, not to mention ridiculously expensive; reserved only for the rich, the famous, and the friends of Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk?!
Find out as we fly through the following topics in this Space Perspective post:
- Space tourism: Fact or fiction?
- Space tourism: Safe space shuttles or risky rockets?
- Space tourism: What are my options as a space tourist?
- Space tourism: Is it for me?
Space tourism: Fact or fiction?
“There has been a lot of commercial attention centered around the concept of traveling to space as a tourist” –Tourism Teacher, Space Tourism Explained: What, Why and Where
Everywhere you look there’s a story about space tourism:
“Space Tourism Startup is Developing ‘Cruises’ Into the Stratosphere” - Daily Mail
“The International Space Station Is Open for Business—and Tourists” - Smithsonian Magazine
“Former NASA astronaut claims we will 'absolutely' go to Mars and says holidaying on the moon will become 'normal' in the coming decades” - Daily Mail
We’re surrounded by news, stories, and speculation about the advancement of space travel for tourists.
But what’s space tourism all about? Is it real or is it hype, driven mainly by the escapades of commercial space flight pioneers Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos?
So, what exactly is space tourism?
“[Space tourism] is the practice of traveling into space for recreational, leisure, or business purposes”Space Tourism Guide, What is Space Tourism? A New Definition
You take holidays or short trips, right? You travel to places outside of where you live for pleasure, leisure, or business.
Well, that’s exactly what space tourism is.
You leave your home, you travel somewhere different, and you experience new things, meet new people, and see different sights. But, instead of traveling to another part of the country or going abroad to do those things, you travel to space.
I know. Talking about traveling to space in the same casual way you’d talk about traveling to, say Spain is crazy. Space tourism is a difficult concept to take seriously because it’s completely alien (forgive the pun) to us and it feels so unattainable.
Space tourism is unbelievable.
And yet, we’re continually hearing stores that say otherwise. So, is it real? Can we really hop on a flight and jet-off to space?
Before flying into space can even begin to become a conceivable pursuit, we need to know where it came from and how it was developed.
Where did space tourism come from?
Believe it or not, space tourism is not a new concept.
Some say the idea of space tourism started in 1942 when Nazi engineers developed the V-2 rocket. These flying bombs could travel more than 50 miles above the Earth in a trajectory of 120 miles. This was the first time a man-made vessel had reached these types of sub-orbital heights.
Others say space tourism officially started in the late 70s, inspired by Neil Armstrong’s ‘giant leap for mankind’ in Apollo 11. That was when the US Government announced the first Space Shuttle (or Space Transportation System), a partially reusable rocket developed by NASA and designed to shuttle people and cargo into space, around the Earth, and back again. Throughout the 1980s the Space Shuttle, via the Space Shuttle Program, successfully flew 135 missions and took 355 people into space. It was only when the tragic Challenger flight explosion happened, that flights stopped for a while.
To most people though, space tourism properly started a little over 20 years ago when Dennis Tito bought the first-ever space flight ticket from Russian commercial flight company MirCorp for a mere $20 million. In 2001 Tito spent eight days at the International Space Station (ISS) which marked the first time that ordinary (albeit incredibly rich) members of the public were able to fly into space.
We’ll get into where space tourism is today and how it’s evolved, later. But before we do that, let’s regroup for a second and conclude: Is space tourism fact or fiction?
Well, we know what space tourism is and we know where it came from, so the idea of space tourism is becoming a little more real.
But, I feel there’s a large elephant in the room that we need to address before we can answer that question properly…
Space tourism: Safe space shuttles or risky rockets?
“Is traveling to space safe?” The million-dollar question on everyone’s lips.
Before we delve into the answer let me ask you this: Is any type of travel safe?
- Around 3,287 people are killed in car accidents every day.
- In 2020 there were 40 commercial passenger planes accidents which resulted in 299 deaths
- From 2005 to 2019 there have been 11,773 fatalities caused by train crashes
When you consider those statistics, we’re left with only one undoubtable answer.
Space travel is not safe.
But, neither is catching a 2-hour inter-state flight, however we’d still book our next one without much thought, wouldn’t we?
We’ve all heard about and seen the devastating consequences of space travel when it goes wrong. You only have to think about the catastrophic Space Shuttle Challenger and Space Shuttle Columbia explosions to take a step back from the idea of visiting space.
But these flights, and others like it, were launched by Government-funded organizations like NASA where money tends to be tight, production is often rushed, and resources always seem to be stretched.
Commercial space flights, on the other hand, are run by private companies like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, Space Perspective, and SpaceX where the safety of their paying customers and the preservation of their reputation have to be top priorities.
“Safety is our guiding principle and the North Star for all programmatic decisions. Our culture is one of prioritizing safety as the most important factor in every element of our work”Virgin Galactic Statement, Space Ref, Statement From Virgin Galactic On Latest NTSB Findings
Plus, with ISO regulations such AS 9100D and regulatory bodies like the American Aerospace Quality Group (AAQG) working hard to improve the safety and reliability of the aerospace industry, space tourism, although undoubtedly risky, is starting to look and feel safer.
I guess the next question is then, is it worth the risk?
What’s it like to be a space tourist?
“It’s sort of like a modern-day safari, except on a rocket ship shooting through space.”Science, Is Space Tourism Safe?
We could all probably imagine what we might see, feel, and hear on a flight into space: A deep, dark, silent blackness filled with twinkling stars. A beautifully rich planet floating majestically in the ether. The amusing feeling of complete weightlessness, and the exhilaration of high-speed travel…but what’s it really like?
“After eight and a half minutes, suddenly the moment you have been dreaming about but never believed would happen has come. The engines shut down and you are safely there, weightless, in space”Chris Hadfield, Masterclass, What Does It Feel Like to Go to Space?
“There’s nothing like your first flight…On the first flight, ascent, which lasts 8.5 minutes, seemed like it went by in 30 seconds to me…It feels like you’re sitting on the top of a 15-story building or something…you’re accelerating like you are a bat out of you-know-where, it’s eye-watering!”Robert Crippen, Popular Science, Astronauts Explain What it’s Like To Be ‘Shot Off the Planet
“It was a truly profound and life-changing experience…I dream about my past and future space flights. Having traveled once to space only deepens your desire to spend more time there…I experienced what many astronauts refer to as ‘the overview effect’, which makes your bond and care of the Earth greatly deepen”Richard Garriot, BBC News, The Medieval Knight Who Went into Space
“You pass over deserts, they are usually not covered in clouds, and you notice how the wind creates shapes that are only perceivable from space.”Richard Garriot, CNBC, What it’s Like To Travel To Space…
So, traveling into space as a tourist is risky, but like nothing you can even begin to imagine or ever experience again.
Tell me, where I can sign-up?!
Space tourism: What are my options as a space tourist?
Like conventional tourism where you can either choose to stay in your home country or visit another, there are two different types of space tourism.
Orbital space tourism
This is your fast-track ticket to the International Space Station.
With orbital space travel, you move at a speed of 17,400 mph (28,000 km/h) and fully orbit at 125 miles above the Earth. To give you an indication of how fast and how high orbital space travel is, commercial airlines only fly at around 575 mph (925 km/h) and can only reach about 5.9 to 7.2 miles above Earth.
When you take an orbital flight you’ll need to:
- Have plenty of cash in the bank to buy your ticket
- Complete some fairly rigorous training before you go
- Be ok with spending around 10 days in space
However, although orbital space vacations are definitely on the cards, we’re not quite there yet.
“Due to the significant amount of cost for privately paid passenger to travel the Earth orbit and beyond, orbital space tourism (OST) is not affordable for the general public”Science Direct, From Aviation Tourism To Suborbital Space Tourism
To date, MirCorp (who we mentioned earlier) is the only company that has successfully flown tourists into space. And, Dennis Tito aside, only six other space tourists have orbited the Earth.
But, following a successful test launch in 2020, Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is planning to send four more people into orbit by early 2022, and Boeing’s Starliner Orbital Flight Test 2 has a planned launch date of 2021.
So, orbital space tourism is most definitely coming.
Sub-orbital space tourism
While orbital space tourism might be a few ‘light-years’ away for us, sub-orbital space tourism has most definitely landed.
With sub-orbital space travel, instead of traveling at break-neck speeds to orbit around the planet, you fly at a relatively sedate 3,700 mph (6,000 km/h) up to the edge of space, and then you come straight back down. So, sub-orbital flights usually only need a commitment of hours not days, like orbital flights do.
Sub-orbital space tourism really kicked off In 2004, when Aerospace engineer Burt Rutan’s privately built SpaceShipOne flew to the edge of space and landed safely back on Earth.
“That historic feat was enough to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize, as well as help convince the public that an era of space tourism was finally within humanity’s grasp”Astronomy, Six Ways To Buy a Ticket To Space in 2021
Although SpaceShipOne was retired after only three successful space flights, the technology lives on in Virgin Galactic’s ‘Spaceship Unity’ rocket, a venture backed by Richard Branson.
Despite a few rocky test-runs and a lot of bad press, flights to space in ‘Spaceship Unity’ are expected to begin in 2021 and over 600 people have already bought tickets. With a $1,000 deposit in your pocket and $250,000 in the bank, you could get yourself one too!
Like Spaceship Unity, you can also reserve a seat on ‘Spaceship Neptune’, a ground-breaking space-balloon built and developed by Space Perspective.
Unlike Branson’s somewhat controversial and heavily criticized ‘Spaceship Unity’, Space Perspectives space-balloon was built and developed by space scientists Jane Poynter and Taber McCallum. These two famously designed the air, food, and water systems for Biosphere 2, the most advanced prototype space base ever built, lived in the artificial planetary biosphere for two years (and twenty minutes), and co-founded World View, a stratospheric ballooning service which offers long-duration, high-altitude balloon flights that carry cargo.
So, they know first-hand that space-balloon flights, designed to carry passengers up to the edge of space, work.
Spaceship Neptune is a spacious, pressurized passenger cabin that is attached to a balloon to provide a smooth, gentle ride to the edge of space. Up to eight passengers will be able to enjoy a warm, comfortable trip to space complete with refreshments, plenty of views, and an abundance of photo opportunities. When it’s time to descend, the balloon will gradually lower its passengers back down to Earth, splashing into the ocean so they can be collected by a waiting boat.
While commercial flights on Spaceship Neptune aren’t expected to start until 2024, test flights will begin in the first quarter of 2021, and you can reserve a seat now, with no deposit required.
“We’re already giving people seat allocations, even though you don’t have to pay any money now”Space Perspective, Space.com, Space Perspective Wants To Take Tourists on Balloon Rides To The Stratosphere
Space tourism: Is it for me?
Previously the opportunity to travel into space has only been available for astronauts. Special people, like Yuri Gagarin or Neil Armstong who were prepared to dedicate their entire lives to training for a trip into space.
To even be considered capable of flying to space you’d have to learn Russian, complete military water survival, robotics skills, and aircraft flight readiness training, pass a flying syllabus and become SCUBA qualified.
But, as we’ve established throughout this post, soon anyone will be able to travel to space (or, to the edge of it at least). With little training and fitness needed and no special skills required, you really will be able to take a trip to space.
For instance, on suborbital flights the pilot (a qualified astronaut) will take care of everything, so all you need to do is sit back and relax – which doesn’t require much training, fitness, or skill.
“The training programs for suborbital space tourist experiences are relatively minimal, perhaps only a few days in length at most”Travel & Leisure, 13 Things Space Tourists Should Know
The only limitation that remains is the cost. The price of a ticket to space is still astronomically expensive.
But, that might not remain an issue for much longer…
Although tickets to board Spaceship Neptune are expected to sell for around $125,000, that’s still half the price of a ticket for a ride aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo!
And, think back to the first commercial airplane ticket price. Back in 1914, it cost the first commercial flight passengers $400 for a ticket, which is the equivalent of around $10,000. This is crazy when you can buy a plane ticket for as little as $40 these days!
So space tourism might seem too risky, too expensive, and too out-of-this-world at the moment, but watch this space…
“Space is for everyone – we are after all already in space”Jane Poynter & Taber McCallum, Space Perspective