Most of us will only be able to experience space travel through movies or in our imaginations. But for some, it will soon be a vacation to remember.
In the past few weeks, several companies and government agencies have announced their plans for space tourism, including Virgin Galactic, which has been working on commercial space flight for a decade now. The company has sold more than 700 tickets to the outer edges of Earth at a hefty price tag of US $250 000 per seat. Trips are expected to start next year.
In April, it showcased a replica of its spacecraft—SpaceshipTwo—on the deck of the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, in New York City. The spacecraft will have enough room for six passengers and two pilots, and will be able to fly 122 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. NASA defines this point as the edge of the planet’s atmosphere and the beginning of space. Passengers will receive two days of training on how to orient themselves in zero gravity before embarking on the trip.
The SpaceshipTwo, which is likely to be the first vehicle used for space tourism, is a hybrid—part airplane and part rocket ship. Once it reaches an altitude of 15 kilometers, comparable to the heights reached by most commercial airplanes, the rocket ship will be released from the plane. Passengers will be in a free fall for several seconds until the rocket accelerates to the speed of sound in just seven seconds, and then to about Mach 3.5 (2500 miles per hour). All the while, it is traveling straight up. Needless to say, this is not a trip for those with a fear of flying.
Once the spacecraft reaches its highest point, passengers can unbuckle and float throughout the cabin for about five minutes. They will also be able to view the exterior of the Earth and the endless black sky through the spaceship’s many large windows. The return trip is just 90 minutes.
For those who cannot initially afford the ticket, prices are expected to dramatically drop within a decade, especially as the technology becomes more affordable and space tourism more competitive.
On 28 April, NASA released a survey seeking feedback on how it can use the International Space Station for commercial activities. It already is working on an affordable commercial space transportation system for the private sector before it too embarks on space tourism. And while SpaceX, a private space transport company, in Hawthorne, Calif., is also working to send people to space, it has an even bigger vision in mind—one-way tickets to Mars.
On 30 April, the BBC reported that the UK government will be expanding its space industry as part of its plan to launch space tourism programs.
Perhaps one day, traveling to outer space will be as commonplace as visiting another country. Until then, how do you feel about taking a trip to space? Is it too soon to trust the technology, or would you go on one of the first flights if given a free ride?