What Kind of Space Tourist Are You?
Welcome to space, humanity's next hot travel destination, where anyone can be a “citizen space explorer.” There's currently a race on to get tourists up here, though exactly where, when and how you make the trip depends entirely on what kind of space tourist you want to be.
Potential space tourists will each have their own idea of what space flight should be. From the drama excitement of a rocket launch to a slow ascent in a capsule beneath a high-altitude balloon, to experiencing weightlessness on a parabolic flight and making your own Moon mission, there is—or soon will be—a space tourism package just for you.
Want official astronaut status?
You want to get to space – proper space – at adrenaline-pumping speeds speeds of 10,000mph, cross the invisible Kármán line 62 miles up that separates Earth and space, and be weightless for a few minutes. You want to sample what it’s like to be an astronaut, and you don’t mind training for it. Capable of carrying six passengers (each paying US$250,000), Virgin Galactic’s new spaceship VSS Unity successfully passed its first glide flight test in December 2016. If you want to be among the first into space, join the (now 700-strong) queue.
Need some personal space?
OK, so going to space all on your own won’t be possible for a while yet, but you can bag co-pilot status—and cut-down on the inevitable whooping of Hollywood elite in the Virgin Galactic cabin—if you travel on the Lynx spacecraft. Although it looks set to take to the skies sometime after Virgin Galactic, XCOR—also stationed at Spaceport in the Mojave desert, California—has seats in the Lynx only for a pilot and one paying passenger. Also unlike the VSS Unity, which gets to 50,000 ft. while attached to the WhiteKnightTwo ‘mothership’ before blasting-off to space, the Lynx will take off and land horizontally on a runway. Advance tickets for the Lynx are selling for US$150,000, with about 300 sold so far.
Want a launchpad countdown?
Admit it. You wish you’d flown Concorde, and watching astronauts lift-off in a Soyuz rocket on their way to their way to the International Space Station makes you dream it was you. Blue Origin has successfully tested its six-seater New Shepard capsule and reusable rockets, and plans to test-launch astronauts in late 2017. Other vehicles for space tourists called New Glenn and New Armstrong are also rumored to be in planning stages at Blue Origin, which is owned by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos. Might be one for the wish list.
Want to take the family with you?
Spending your life savings on a few minutes in space might get you in trouble with the rest of the family, so why not take them—and a bunch of friends—along for the ride? Beijing’s China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) claimed recently at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico that it has already built a small version of a spaceship that could be scaled-up hold up to 20 space tourists. The 100-tonne winged, reusable rocket would take-off from a launchpad and land on a runway, much like the Space Shuttle used to. Tickets are estimated to cost US$200,000-250,000 each, and test flights are due to begin in the next two years.
Experience the Overview Effect?
If you want to experience a powerful emotional reaction to seeing the whole of the Earth—a.k.a. the “Overview Effect”—spend time with the planet, take photos and generally maximize your “black sky time,” consider becoming a “bloonaut.” Spain-based Zero2infinity’s Bloon has a pod that will carry four passengers and two pilots to near-space—an altitude of 22 miles—in a journey that lasts three hours. It’s even possible to arrange specific launch and landing sites, or to coincide your trip with a total solar eclipse. Tickets cost US$115,000.
Just want a space selfie?
Space sounds awesome, but only if you can tweet about it, right? And take a selfie or two with the planet? If it doesn't get on Instagram, it didn’t happen, which is why Arizona-based WorldView will equip its helium-powered Voyager para-foil balloons with comfy sofas for six passengers, huge windows and, yes, Wi-Fi.
WorldView is charging US$75,000 for a two-hour trip in a high-altitude balloon that reaches 20 miles, which will lift-off from Spaceport Tucson before the end of 2018. Oh, and there's a bar on board, so you can toast the human race from space.
Want to save the planet while you marvel at it?
A planet that’s heating up shouldn’t be burning massive amounts of rocket fuel just to get some rich people into space for a few minutes so they can flood Instagram with selfies. Right? So what about the two-seater SolarStratos, a 8.5-meter-long solar-powered aircraft with 72 square feet of solar cells that’s promising to take passengers past the stratosphere on pure sunlight. That height—about 15 miles—isn’t technically space, but it’s close enough for the same view as from a high-altitude balloon. Launches are being planned for 2018, and bookings are being taken for around US$58,000 per ticket.
Just want to be weightless?
Who needs space? If experiencing zero gravity is what space flight is all about for you, prepare for a ride in a parabolic plane. Climbing to 24,000 feet, the pilot then steeply climbs another 10,000 feet at an angle of 45 degrees. After 30-40 seconds of heaviness comes 25 seconds of weightlessness as the plane reaches 34,000 feet and then dives back to 24,000 feet, again at an angle of 45 degrees. GoZeroG's plane does this fifteen times, so you get a total of six and a half minutes of weightlessness.
Taking-off from Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Orlando, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington DC in the first half of 2017, GoZeroG charges US$4,950 per ride.
Are you all about the orbit?
For you, the International Space Station is humanity’s greatest achievement. Those six men and women who orbit our planet at the speed of a bullet for months on end are the true pioneers of our species, and you’d give anything to be among them.
Although it’s hardly the busiest tour operator in the world, Space Adventures has booked 10-day trips to the ISS for seven private citizens so far (though none since Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté in 2009). Budget about US$50 billion for this one, plus months of training.
Want to follow Apollo?
Floating aimlessly in space is pointless; you want to set foot on an alien body and take your own ‘one small step’ for mankind. Landing space tourists on the lunar surface may take a while, but it looks increasingly certain that trips to our satellite will be a mainstay of space tourism. Moon Express—which will put a lander on the Moon in 2017 in a bid to win the Google Lunar XPrize—reckons US$10,000 will buy a seat on a trip to the lunar surface by 2025. While you wait, consider Space Adventures’ plan for a daring circumlunar mission for two space tourists.