It won’t be cheap, but your holiday plans could include a trip to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere or beyond—before the end of this year. Several space tourism companies are zeroing in on their first launch.
Bob Smith, CEO of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, told CNBC: “We think we still have that possibility of getting that done this year.”
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson shared similar sentiments, revealing that the thing he was most excited about in 2018 was “hopefully going into space,” presumably in one of his own company’s ships. The news follows a recently restarted series of test flights after a tragic test flight crash in 2014.
The two billionaires are far from the only people pushing the prospect of space tourism having a breakout 2018. Nor are their companies the only ones on the brink of letting you spend a holiday in space.
Astrium, Boeing, Bigelow Aerospace, Excalibur Almaz, SpaceX, Space Adventures, Space Island Group, and Zero2Infinity have been working on similar solutions. So, strap yourself in and peruse five of the ways in which you could soon be heading heavenward.
The plan: Pack six people into a 530-cubic-foot space inside a capsule. Launch it above the Karman Line (100 kilometers) which is often described as the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. The capsule detaches before returning to Earth. On its descent, it is slowed by parachutes.
The experience: Blue Origin claims that its capsule is “large enough for you to float freely and turn weightless somersaults.” It also features six of the largest windows in spaceflight history, giving inhabitants great views of Earth and space.
Price: Blue Origin hasn’t released any official price lists, but experts told Fast Company that a trip would likely cost between $100,000 and $200,000.
The plan: First, the VSS Unity, a SpaceShipTwo-class spacecraft, will be strapped onto WhiteKnightTwo, a purpose-built dual fuselage aircraft. Then WhiteKnightTwo flies to around 50,000 feet and releases VSS Unity, whose hybrid rocket motor takes it to suborbital heights and back to Earth.
The experience: Comfort, safety, and astronaut experience are the priorities, according to Virgin Galactic. And windows. Lots and lots of windows. Along with several minutes of weightlessness.
Price: A ticket aboard a Virgin Galactic craft is currently priced at $250,000. Around 700 people have put down a deposit for a seat.
The plan: Build the most expensive, least comfortable or private B&B imaginable. Executives at Orion Span are likely chanting “location, location, location” while looking at the projected expenses. But the views, oh the views in the resulting Aurora Station, a space station billed as the first-ever luxury space hotel. Its doors are scheduled to open in 2022.
The experience: The luxury claim is questionable. Four guests and two crew will be packed into a horse-pill-shaped box cabin, which measures about 43 feet long by 14 feet wide. However, it will be 200 miles above everyone else apart from the astronauts on the International Space Station. Guests will get to experience space for one and a half weeks.
The price: Initial deposit: $80,000. Full fee: $9.5 million. That hasn’t stopped the first four months of reservations from selling out. All must be hoping that this doesn’t turn out like the Galactic Suite Project, a similar project from 2008—which hasn’t updated its website since 2014.
The plan: Already hugely successful when it comes to launching satellites, SpaceX’s (bad pun warning) moon shot is to send two paying customers on a trip around the moon, following in the footsteps of the first manned missions of 50 years ago. The flight was planned for 2018 but has been delayed.
The experience: Climb into something akin to a Big (sorry, I can’t swear here) Rocket, lift off, accelerate, fly to Moon, look at Moon, fly to dark side of the Moon, hum Pink Floyd, fly back to Earth, descend through atmosphere, land. Time: one week.
Price: Space X hasn’t revealed the price of this plan. I might be going out on a limb here, but I’ll state for the record that it’ll be “not cheap.”
The plan: Space Adventures could be called the originator of space tourism. The company has already sent a number of people to the International Space Station (ISS), including the world’s first space tourist, businessman Dennis Tito, and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté.
The experience: Varies, but there is some overlap with what the real astronauts who work on the ISS go through. Compared to the other companies presented in this article, Space Adventures’ training program is rigorous, lasting up to six months. While Space Adventures has not launched anyone to the ISS for quite some time, it is still active, and says it is planning a Moon launch.
Price: Has varied from person to person. Dennis Tito paid $20 million, while English soprano Sarah Brightman reportedly put down $52 million in 2015 for a trip to the ISS. The trip was later postponed “for personal family reasons.”
Not If, But When
With so many companies competing, it seems like the question is not if but when space tourism will become available. Perhaps more interesting than the possibility of going to the edge of space and beyond is the effect it will have on the travelers.
Astronauts have often spoken of the life-changing nature of viewing our planet from above.
It is hard to pick a favorite, but personally, I quite like Aleksandr Aleksandrov’s quote in 1988’s The Home Planet:
“We were flying over America and suddenly I saw snow, the first snow we ever saw from orbit. I have never visited America, but I imagined that the arrival of autumn and winter is the same there as in other places, and the process of getting ready for them is the same. And then it struck me that we are all children of our Earth. “
Image Credit: Orion Span