Space tourism is a reality. Here’s what you need to know.
Last week, NASA announced the discovery of Earth’s cousin, the charmingly named Kepler-452b. While the planet, 1,400 light years away, likely won’t be hosting earthling expeditions anytime soon, there’s no reason you can’t get into space in short order. Here’s everything you need to know about space tourism.
Before You Go
Here’s the thing – space tourism isn’t some futuristic vision. It’s already happened. Seven people – from Cirque de Soleil cofounder Guy Laliberté to video game pioneer Richard Garriott – have already made eight space flights for no other purpose than to say they were there. It’s all thanks to Virginia’s Space Adventures, offering everything from zero-gravity flight ($4,950 per person, plus tax) to a spacewalk (price not provided, includes 16 days aboard the ISS).
Space Adventures had partnered with the now-defunct MirCorp, which used the Mir space station as a commercial destination. When the Mir crashed to Earth in 2001, it put an end to the vacation destination. But the story isn’t going to end there.
Robert Bigelow, owner of the hotel chain Budget Suites of America, has reportedly committed $500 million of his own money to create a Budget Suite in the sky – a commercial space station that is accessible to anyone willing to pay.
Bigelow Aerospace launched two inflatable space habitats in 2006 and 2007 – the latest iteration, the B330 offers a relatively majestic 330 cubic meters of internal space for up to six occupants. They’re hoping to launch it in 2017.
Space Island Group’s Space Island Project proposes creating “plush resort hotels” in Earth orbit. They’re hoping to accommodate 20,000 people by 2020.
And if more exotic destinations are your thing, check out Mars One – the Netherland’s-based nonprofit hopes to establish a permanent human colony on the Red Planet by 2027. Be forewarned, there are no return tickets available.
Commercial aviation giant Boeing isn’t letting the latest space race pass them by. Their CST-100 is a crew capsule will accommodate up to seven people. Boeing hopes to use the vehicle for both scientific and public purposes.
And then there’s World View Enterprises which promises to use high-altitude balloons to bring sightseers 20 miles above Earth, before “a gentle descent” back to terra firma via parafoil. Wired has a great write-up on the company.
And then of course, there’s Virgin Galactic, which promises regularly scheduled suborbital spaceflights to tourists with deep pockets. Richard Branson’s latest pet project hoped to launch in spring 2015, but plans were scuttled after a disastrous test flight in 2014 – 700 people had already bought tickets.
National Transportation Safety Board officials are expected to announce today what they believe caused the crash.
Food and Drink
Perhaps it will be best to think of your space holiday as a spa experience – the days of dehydrated Tang and freeze-dried ice cream are not a thing of the past. “We’re able to provide a wide variety of products in thermal-stabilized or freeze-dried form,” NASA’s Vickie Kloeris said. Which means you’re going to be stuck snacking on freeze-dried shrimp dipped in a powder-plus-water cocktail sauce. There are vegetarian and vegan options, however.
Prep for Your Trip
Check out the Space Tourism Society to learn more about the burgeoning tourism industry. Read NASA’s General Public Space Travel and Tourism (pdf), a 40-page report published in 1998. And be sure to give Robert Heinlein’s classic short story The Menace from Earth a read if you want to see how things can go wrong.
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