The Present and Future of Space Tourism
The new frontier in adventure travel is out of this world, literally. The trend toward space tourism has built up momentum over the past decade. There are currently four companies that offer space flights, and the cost may be less than you think. Here is a look at space tourism, and what we can look forward to in the future.
For most of human history, the idea of catching a commercial flight into orbit has been crazy. However, in the last few years, this notion of space tourism has become a reality. Since 2001, there are companies that are either performing or attempting to perform commercial passenger space missions. There have already been seven space tourists on orbital missions in space. All of them traveled with the company Space Adventures, and all were able to spend time on the International Space Station (ISS). The average cost for these missions has been $26.2 million dollars. This is definitely out of most people’s price range.
In 2004, Sir Richard Branson founded Virgin Galactic with the hopes of allowing people to travel to suborbital space for around $200,000 each. Though still costly, this price tag makes space travel far more accessible. The trip would consist of getting to see the stars (unencumbered by Earth’s atmosphere), and to look back from far above the earth. Despite thirteen years of research and testing, Virgin has not yet accomplished a successful space flight with commercial passengers. There have been several setbacks and postponements, and in October 2014, the company lost one of their Space Ship 2 aircraft on a test flight. There is still no definitive word on when Virgin Galactic will be taking passengers into space.
Another company that is exploring commercial space travel is Blue Origin. The company was founded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and the company has performed several successful test flights. The testing schedule for this service runs through 2018, and commercial flights are to be scheduled shortly after. Blue Origin looks like a promising space travel company for the near future.
The biggest commercial space travel company to date is Space Adventures out of Virginia. This company is responsible for all of the space tourists that have currently been in space. The company works closely with Russia and uses their Soyuz spacecraft to dock with the ISS. Space Adventures hopes to launch a suborbital space program soon and is currently in the testing phases for those spacecraft. The announced price point for their suborbital flight is around $100,000. The company also plans to offer space walks and lunar missions to complement their orbital and suborbital programs. So far, Space Adventures is the leader in commercial space travel, but one spacecraft carrying a payload of 8 passengers could change that.
The last company does not offer commercial passenger flights as of this time but has shown great potential for doing so in the near future. The company is SpaceX. Started by billionaire genius Elon Musk, this company has been setting the standard for space travel for several years now. They perform resupply missions to the ISS multiple times every year with their cost-effective reusable spacecraft. SpaceX has been granted contracts with NASA, the US air force, and private companies who wish to launch satellites. The company is working on deploying a cluster of satellites that would beam the internet to all corners of the earth in order to fund the beginning of their interplanetary division. The company was founded with the intent to successfully carry people to Mars and create outposts there. Musk unveiled the plans for the Interplanetary Transport System last year and announced the company’s plans to allow two contracted commercial passengers to take a trip around the moon and back in the near future.
The commercial space travel industry is showing real promise. These four companies are the pioneers, and soon, space travel may be commonplace because of them. Hopefully, the wonders of space travel will continue to become more accessible over time. Just as we have seen in other technological fields, technology becomes cheaper over time as it is adopted by more people. When will you book you first space tourism trip? What will commercial space travel look like in 100 years? It is truly an exciting time to be alive and to witness the birth of this industry.