Space exploration has captured the world’s interest ever since the famous Space Race between the Soviet Union and the U.S. during the Cold War, which culminated in the U.S. landing the first humans on the moon in 1969. In fact, it was only mere decades ago that the idea of space tourism—not just for astronauts and scientific research but for leisure and recreation—was the stuff of science fiction: Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Today, space travel for the common man is no longer a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when,’ thanks to the ingenuity and imagination of self-funded business magnates with an eye on the sky.
A few major players have emerged in the race towards the first commercial flights to space. Prototypes from Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space line are readying to take its first passengers on a suborbital space flight to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere. Meanwhile, SpaceX, an aerospace manufacturer founded by Tesla Motors CEO and investor Elon Musk, has begun launching rockets into orbit, with the ambitious end goal of enabling human colonization on Mars.
Of course, the price of airfare to space is still well beyond most anyone’s means—a single seat on Virgin Galactic will put you out of $250,000. Luckily, the rest of us can still gaze upon the worlds beyond ours from our backyards. Stargazing remains a beloved nightly pastime, where views of phenomena like the northern lights and lunar eclipses can be seen for free with just the naked eye.Space is the tourism industry’s next frontier, and Travel + Leisure remains on the pulse of every technological achievement and development made towards it becoming a reality. From the gear passengers will wear to the logistics of getting on a flight, check back here for the latest news and updates.