Have you ever imagined what it would be like to visit distant galaxies? To set foot on alien lands that no human has ever visited? To watch stars zooming past as you conquer the vast distances of the cosmos? Sigh. That would be something, wouldn’t it?
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Man has taken many baby steps to understand and conquer this mystery we call our universe. With all the knowledge we’ve gained over the past decades, we have come to a point where the sky and all that is beyond doesn’t just belong to astronauts and scientists. The space tourism industry is now burgeoning and is officially open for business! You now have an actual chance at the rare experience of a space holiday!
Russia made Dennis Tito the world’s first space tourist on April 30, 2001 and took him on a short trip to the International Space Station aboard the Russian Soyuz Rocket. Until 2009, there have been 7 space tourists in total—7 extremely wealthy individuals—who have paid between 20 and 40 million dollars for a week or two in space.
Realizing that they’re at the helm of a breakthrough (and what could be an extremely lucrative one at that), several companies have sprung up such as Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and XCOR Aerospace in the hopes of creating a booming sub-orbital space tourism industry. Today’s wealthy moguls believe that if they back these technologies, they will eventually be able to propel mankind into the solar system and perhaps beyond! With enough patronage, development and innovation, space travel would one day be accessible to people like you and me!
The space tourism industry is in its absolute nascent stages. Right now, it is restricted only to the extremely wealthy (not to mention healthy) individuals. Currently, Space Adventures remains the only company to have sent paying passengers to space.
In 2015, the private space movement gained massive ground. The most spectacular win that deserves a mention is when SpaceX, a company owned by Elon Musk, successfully landed one of the world’s most powerful unmanned rockets upright: the first time anyone has ever achieved this feat. This means that rocket boosters could be reused just like airplanes which would reduce the cost of commercial space travel operations by an unbelievable margin!
The space tourism industry does not just offer a short trip to the International Space Station. There are lots of experiences that you can have within this ambit because traditionally defined space begins just 50 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. The experience of weightlessness and looking down at our planet from that vantage point may seem impossible right now, but they will be totally viable adventure options soon enough!
Currently, here are some of the options of space tourism available if you have a few thousand dollars (or hundred thousand dollars) to spare:
- Virgin Atlantic will be offering a rocket ride to 50,000 feet at three times the speed of sound before a smaller spaceship will detach for the experience of weightlessness.
- XCOR Aerospace plans to take you to suborbital space for the most spectacular views of earth you will ever see in your lifetime.
- World View Enterprises is planning balloon trips to take you 100,000 feet in space.
- SpaceX has planned an orbital flight to revolutionize space travel. There’s also the ambitious Mars One colonization project.
- Zero Gravity Corporation is just like it sounds. It will provide you with a zero gravity experience.
- Space Adventures, a direct rival of Virgin Atlantic, plans for orbital flights, spacewalks, visits to the ISS and even a circum-lunar mission.
- Go Russia offers a flight on board the supersonic MiG-29 fighter jet which will zip you away 75,000 feet above the earth’s surface and thrill you with some amazing supersonic aerobatics! (This one is actually available now!).
…And there’s a lot more where that came from! Most of these options have been penciled in for the coming years, but many of them have opened up bookings to reserve seats for the space adventure of your dreams. They are using that advance payment for research and development.
As with any industry, once it expands, any experience becomes available to the general population at much lower prices. That is the current aim of the pioneers of the space industry, and boy, are we excited! Soon, you too will be able to become a space tourist! (Fair warning though. Don’t take the word ‘tourist’ at face value. Most space tourists have to go through rigorous training, so don’t start saving up expecting a laidback adventure.)
It is estimated that within the next 20 years, flights into orbit may be as frequent as international flights on Earth. The initial high cost of this adventure is aimed at putting more money into research.
At first, any accommodation beyond earth’s orbit will be Spartan at best. As the industry grows, it will provide people with a more comfortable experience. And when the view they offer is so gorgeously magnificent, few people will think about the luxury of five-star hotels down on the ground!
Space tourism is an idea whose time has arrived. And I personally cannot wait for what it has in store for us! To infinity and beyond, then?