Space tourism is becoming more of a reality now that the commercial spaceflight companies Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic have announced details about their plans.
Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos confirmed in an interview conducted in October that flights for paying customers would start next year. He spoke at the Wired25 conference, held by Wired magazine in San Francisco.
The reusable 530-cubic crew capsule, powered by the company’s New Shepard rocket, would have six passengers. Bezos said they would receive only a day of training, maybe two at the most.
He said he considers the passengers to be astronauts because “you do earn your astronaut wings by flying above the Kármán line,” 100 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. He noted that was the same distance traveled in 1961 by the first American astronaut, Alan Shepard. Bezos added that people seeing Earth from that perspective experience a life-changing event, known as the overview effect.
He also confirmed that there will be no flight crew on board. According to previous reports, the launch and ascent are to be controlled remotely and autonomously, with backup systems in case something goes wrong. The crew on the ground would provide guidance to the passengers, such as letting them know when it’s safe to leave their seat and when it’s time to prepare for reentry.
Bezos did not announce the price of a ticket, but Reuters has reported it is likely to cost between US $200,000 and $300,000.
In September, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, an honorary IEEE member, introduced Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa as the first passenger to fly to the moon aboard the company’s Dragon capsule, powered by the company’s Big Falcon rocket. The ride will skim the moon’s surface but not land and then continue outward before gravity brings it back to Earth for a landing, the company says.
Musk revealed that Maezawa approached him with the offer to be the first customer and praised him for his courage.
“This is dangerous. It’s no walk in the park,” Musk said. “It will require a lot of training. When you are pushing the frontier, it’s not a sure thing. It’s not like taking an air flight somewhere. There are chances something could go wrong. You have to be a very brave person to do this.”
The trip, scheduled for 2023, is expected to take four to five days. Maezawa, who has been fascinated with the moon since he was a youngster, said he will bring along six to eight artists to share his experience.
Although Musk didn’t disclose the price of a ticket, he said Maezawa is “paying a lot of money that would help with the ship and its booster. He’s ultimately paying for the average citizen to be able to travel to other planets. It’s a great thing.”
Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said in an interview with CNBC that the company’s VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle rocket plane should be in space within weeks, not months. “And then we will be in space with myself in months and not years,” he said, “and then with people not too long after that.”
The interview was conducted in October at the Barclays Asia Forum in Singapore.
Branson said that, to recoup his investment, the company expects to charge $250,000 per passenger at first. He estimated that within 10 years, the price will drop to about $45,000. He said the market for space tourism is “gigantic,” and said he plans to build enough spacecraft to meet the demand.