The possibility that tomorrow you can get on a rocket, experience zero gravity, see the Earth from space, and, perhaps, step on the Moon or Mars no longer belongs only to science fiction novels. It’s likely that in this decade, maybe two years from now, anyone will be able to go to space, provided they have enough resources to do space tourism.
With the birth and growth of private space travel companies, this tourism is closer than ever. We tell you about some companies that are developing this possibility, what experiences they offer and how much it costs to reserve them.
What is space tourism?
Space tourism is the practice of traveling to outer space as a tourist, that is, for recreational, leisure, and business purposes. The idea has been around since the 1960s but has only recently come to fruition. Space tourism is not only about visiting the International Space Station or the Moon, but about going beyond Earth’s orbit and flying to space stations or even to other planets in the solar system, for example, there has been talking about visiting Mars.
When did space tourism start?
- 1960: Some governments and organizations mentioned the possibility of traveling to space for tourist purposes, however, by this time the United States and other powers did not need additional income, so they dismissed the idea.
- 1961: Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth in a journey that lasted 108 minutes.
- 1990: The USSR Guest Program intended to send civilians to the MIR Space Station. But, after the fall of the USSR, this plan was put aside.
- 1996: The X Prize Foundation opened the competition to create tourist space flights by offering the Ansari X Prize. The goal was to design a device that would carry three crew members more than 100 km from Earth.
- 2001: Dennis Tito became the first space tourist on a space flight. He paid approximately 20 million dollars. It is believed that from this date the history of space tourism officially began.
- 2004: Pilot Brian Binnie took off from the Mojave desert in California, reaching 112 km altitude an hour later, obtaining the new world record. With this feat, he obtained the Ansari X Prize, offered in 1996.
- 2002: Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, manages to go down in history as one of the first space tourists. He spent eight days on the International Space Station (ISS).
- 2005: Gregory Olsen, at the age of 60, arrived in space aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-10 rocket.
- 2006: Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-American businesswoman, and engineer spent nine days on the ISS. She and she, moreover, she is the first space tourist and the first Iranian woman in space.
- 2007: Microsoft co-founder and inventor of Word and Excel, Charles Simonyi, went into space on Soyuz TMA-10.
- 2009: Guy Laliberté, the founder of Cirque du Soleil, spent 11 days in outer space.
- 2021: Billionaire Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, also achieved the long-awaited private trip to space.
- 2021: Jeff Bezos, founder, and CEO of Amazon traveled to space aboard the New Shepard spacecraft.
- 2021: SpaceX made history with the Inspiration4 mission. In that sense, it carried four civilians for three days, being one of the most successful trips to space.
What is the importance of space tourism?
Space tourism has already begun to have an impact on society; Many people are already planning their vacations around their trips to outer space. But what does this mean for our society in general? Here are some of the most important ways space tourism will affect us in the future:
- Tourist space travel helps to better understand how humans can live and work in space. This, in turn, can serve as documentation for understanding the effects of space travel on humans.
- They allow us to learn more about the resources we need on Earth and how we can use them most efficiently.
- It represents a boost to the economy. It contributes millions of dollars to the economy. Along the same lines, space tourism creates jobs in the field of space travel, as well as in other related fields, such as aerospace engineering and astronaut training.
- Tourist trips to space can be an opportunity to help people learn more about the world and how it works while offering scientists and researchers the opportunity to collect data that can be useful in future projects or discoveries.
Space tourism companies
SpaceX was on everyone’s lips on May 30 when it successfully launched aboard the Falcon 9 with NASA astronauts. The astronauts successfully lifted off and docked with the International Space Station a couple of days later.
This was the first manned space travel launch by a private company. With this fact, space exploration reached a point of no return: the advance of private companies to achieve space tourism.
SpaceX is a company founded by Elon Musk in 2002. He has designed Falcon 1, Falcon 9, and Falcon Heavy rockets, making them reusable. Musk said that one of the company’s goals is to reduce the cost and improve the reliability of the access to space, in addition to developing a rapid reuse launch system. In 2012, he also announced that he intended to establish the first human colony on Mars.
It also announced a partnership with Space Adventures for the first space tourist trip. This incursion would take place in 2021 and will carry four people into space. Unlike the last mission, the capsule will remain in orbit, revolving around the earth.
It should be remembered that SpaceX had also announced a trip to the Moon aboard the Big Falcon Rocket. A very famous mission due to the investment made by the Japanese businessman Yusaku Maezawa, who bought his ticket in 2018. Although the mission has suffered several delays, the mission is expected to take place in 2023.
Price: USD 55,000,000
For more than 15 years, Virgin Galactic has marketed space travel to tourists. He assures us that he has already sold tickets to 600 people from 80 countries for this experience. This 2020 it seems that the company will manage to start them.
Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004 by Richard Branson. The company’s first goal is to provide manned suborbital flights for tourists. In the future, it also plans to offer orbital flights. The first date that the company had given to bring these flights to life was at the end of 2009. However, this has been postponed on different occasions.
Virgin Galactic promises to take its passengers to the suborbital level, at the edge of space, about 100 km from Earth. At this height, you feel the effect of the absence of gravity and you can see the dark sky and the outline of the Earth.
The plan is to take passengers on a cargo plane, the WhiteNightTwo, up to 15 km. Upon reaching this height, it will launch a small spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, to continue its ascent into space. There, passengers will spend several minutes in zero gravity. Plans call for six passengers and two pilots to travel on the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity.
In 2019, some of the buyers of this space trip were able to try on the space suits, designed by the Under Armor brand. In addition, it was announced that those who make this trip will only have to prepare for three days, unlike astronauts who must go through months of training. Total travel time would take between 90 minutes and two hours.
Price : USD 250,000
At the turn of the millennium, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos created his own aerospace transportation company, Blue Origin. Among the company’s objectives are suborbital and orbital flights for official US missions and private flights.
Aboard the New Shepard capsule, Blue Origin offers space travel. The company plans to send up to six passengers on a short trip into space and reach suborbital height. Once it reaches a height of 100 km, it makes a free flight and begins the parachute descent. With this experience, travelers will be able to enjoy weightlessness and see the outline of the Earth.
Two days before the trip to space, passengers must travel to West Texas to receive specific training about the mission. Among the information they will receive will be a general description, safety regulations, simulation, procedures, communication, maneuvers, and more.
The capsule has already passed numerous tests and boasts the largest windows in spaceflight history. In the last test carried out, on April 29, the New Shepard reached a height of 106 km. According to the executive director of the firm, John Smith, it would be able to start commercial flights this 2020. Smith also assured me that the price would be “a few hundred thousand dollars.”
In 2022, Blue Origin sent six people into suborbital space, achieving its fifth spaceflight mission. This Blue Origin NS-21 spacecraft reached a peak of 106 kilometers above ground level. Crew member Katya Echazarreta, after this flight, is now the first woman born in Mexico and the youngest American woman to reach space.
Price : USD 28,000,000
It is no longer just talking about small trips to space to experience zero gravity. Now, comfortable stays are also offered on the earth’s surface.
This is the result of an alliance between the space station manufacturer Axiom Space and the travel agency Roman & Erica Inc. The companies have come together to offer an experience out of this world: a trip to space with 10-day accommodation on the Space Station International (IEE).
Axiom Space is an aerospace manufacturer founded by Michael Suffredini and Kam Ghaffarian in 2016. The company has built a series of special modules that have been linked to the ISS, where it plans to house its guests. In addition, it hopes that, after the station’s retirement, its modules will remain in orbit to build its Axiom Space Station. According to projections, it would be ready in the late 2020s.
These space trips will last 10 days. The tour includes the training program, transportation to and from, a room with a view of the land, and more. The training program will last three days and will consist of three phases: instruction on safety and adaptation to weightlessness, use of onboard systems, and launch and landing processes. Likewise, the rooms will have 24-inch windows with views of the land, designer interiors, and internet for videoconferences.
Reservations can be made through Roman & Erica Inc.
Price : USD 55,000,000
Space Adventures is the first company to fly seven civilians to the International Space Station. This happened from 2001 to 2009, thanks to an agreement between the company and Russia. In this way, the lucky ones, who are estimated to have paid USD 20 million, traveled aboard a Soyuz spacecraft to stay at the station for 10 days.
After this trip, trips to space were suspended but will be resumed in the coming years. The excursion to the ISS may also include a spacewalk accompanied by a professional astronaut.
In addition, as already mentioned, Space Adventures has closed an agreement with SpaceX so that four people can take private flights “and see planet Earth like no one has since the Gemini program.” The mission will be aboard the Crew Dragon capsule and is expected to take place in late 2021 or early 2022.
Space Adventures offers different space travel programs. Some of them are orbital spaceflight missions to the International Space Station, lunar circular missions around the Moon, zero-gravity flights, cosmonaut training programs, spaceflight qualification programs, and reservations on future suborbital spacecraft.
Price: It is not open to the public. For the program in alliance with SpaceX, it is estimated that between 25,000,000 and 50,000,000 dollars per person.
The company has designed a spacecraft that would carry civilians into the stratosphere to watch the sunrise. The trip will take place aboard a hot air balloon called Spaceship Neptune, which has a capsule with nine seats: one for the pilot and eight for the passengers. In addition, it will have bathroom and bar services.
The balloon flies thanks to hydrogen, which provides more stability than helium. It also has a pressurized cabin that hangs below, a dome on the roof to offer a 360-degree view, and huge windows to admire the view.
The entire trip will take six hours and will depart from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center before sunrise. The first two hours of the flight will be done while it is still dark so that customers can see the stars. Upon reaching the stratosphere, travelers will be able to see the curvature of the Earth and the darkness of space. For two hours, they will be able to enjoy the sunrise.
The voyage ends with a two-hour descent and splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, depending on the winds. There, the balloon will be rescued by a recovery ship.
If all procedures and tests go according to plan, Neptune One’s first liftoff will take place in late 2024. The first 600 places are already sold out, however, there are trips available for 2025.
Price: USD 125,000.
How much money does it take to go to space?
These trips are subject to strict regulations and can be quite expensive: the average price for an overnight stay on the International Space Station is about $25,000,000, while multi-day space travel tickets range from $125,000 to $55,000,000
Several factors make space tourism so expensive. The first is safety: it is dangerous to send people into space without the proper training and equipment, so all participants must undergo extensive training before they are allowed to board any spacecraft. In most cases, these formations exceed the year.
The second factor is the cost of launching into orbit: although NASA has managed to reduce this cost over time by developing better technologies, such as fuel-efficient rockets that require less fuel per launch, it is still high and difficult enough that only wealthy individuals can afford it today.
Advantages and disadvantages of space tourism
Advantages of space tourism
- What are the benefits of going to space? First of all, it’s a booming industry, and it has the power to change everything we know about travel. For example, it could lower the costs of other means of transport.
- Some tourists may experience weightlessness, see the Earth spinning below them, and even see stars and other planets in the night sky. With tourist trips to space, human beings will experience situations impossible to live in on Earth.
- It is a way to understand more about how human beings behave in different environments.
- It can accelerate the development of aircraft with electric motors and alternative fuels such as biofuels or hydrogen. So, in the future, they find green travel for tourism in space.
- It can serve as inspiration for the new generation of engineers.
- Private investment will benefit the space industry.
Disadvantages of space tourism
- There is no clarity regarding the benefits of space travel for tourists. Its detractors claim that it is not worth investing so much money in this field.
- It is not yet known exactly what negative consequences it can bring to the health of the human being who is exposed to this experience. For example, professional astronauts are known to experience bone and muscle loss when they spend many months in space, but the big question is how the body of a relatively healthy person will react to being in these new conditions.
- There is the risk of militarization and contamination of space.
- Another of the cons of space tourism is that it will increase the amount of space debris.
The future of space tourism
Everything seems to indicate that commercial flights to space are a business that will continue to boom and will allow innovation in new spacecraft and vehicles, and it may even be the window that is needed to start terraforming planets. According to the Swiss Investment Bank (UBS), in a study released in 2019, it pointed out that this industry could become a $3 billion business in the next decade.
In addition, NASA hopes to get an increase in its annual budget, to continue researching the most optimal way to take tourists to space. This makes us intuit that the growth that the industry has experienced is far from stopping and what will happen is that it will become much more gigantic. Also, likely, in the coming years the number of people who can buy tickets to space tourism will increase significantly and it will probably cease to be an opportunity only for billionaires.
For now, we can only imagine what is to come. However, experts have already put on the table the possibility of doing suborbital space tourism, point-to-point flights, building space hotels, recording a movie in space, making recreational visits to the Moon, and even learning about exoplanets first-hand.
The great advances in space tourism bring us closer to a reality that only appeared in futuristic movies. They imply not only the arrival of civilians in space but also that advances in space exploration grow at ever greater steps. It seems, then, that the space race has resumed with more force than before; but, this time, the winner will not be a country, but all humanity.
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