What if getting into space was as easy as stepping into an elevator? Space tourism is here to make that a reality. The next few years will see a series of missions for non-astronauts.
Up until the new millennium, only professional astronauts were able to leave the Earth and head for the stars. But now, space is beginning to open up to civilians — at least those with big enough bank accounts.
Space tourism is closer to reality than ever before, as private spaceflight companies develop new modes of transportation to get humans to the stars.
The concept of space tourism is one of the most exciting emerging features of the wider tourism industry. Companies like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are already making waves by outlining plans to deliver various forms of commercial spaceflight in the near future.
Let’s find out more about the space tourism industry and the companies that are most likely to deliver on it.
A Brief History of Space Tourism
While the concept of space tourism still sounds futuristic, it actually already has an established history. So far, however, the Russian Space Agency is the only company that has successfully facilitated orbital space tourism. This primarily took place in the early 2000s, during which time seven space tourists were taken into space.
The Russian Space Agency ceased its space tourism operations in 2010. Since then, a number of private enterprises have started to pursue space travel, resulting in various proposals in this area.
The era of space tourism is on the horizon 60 years after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space.
Founded in 2004 by Richard Branson. The British billionaire floated the company to fly tourists into space. The Virgin Galactic space tourism company is aiming to provide regular suborbital spaceflights for paying customers.
On 11th July, Richard Branson soared more than 50 miles above the New Mexico desert aboard his Virgin Galactic rocket plane and safely returned in the vehicle’s first fully crewed test flight to space, a symbolic milestone for a venture he started 17 years ago.
The company already has an extensive waiting list of people wishing to become space tourists, with an initial deposit of £200,000 required to secure a place on this list.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX captured headlines for accomplishing something no private company has done before: launching two astronauts into orbit. Aside from the initial launch date’s delay due to weather, the historic flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon went off without a hitch. Veteran astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken docked at the International Space Station 19 hours after blasting off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The success of the Crew Dragon launch isn’t just a win for SpaceX. It’s also a major victory for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a partnership with both SpaceX and Boeing designed to develop spacecraft and rockets capable of launching humans into orbit.
Blue Origin is another leading space tourism company led by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. In early February 2021, Bezos announced he was stepping down as Amazon CEO to spend more time focusing on his other projects. One of them is Blue Origin.
To date, Blue Origin has been the main competitor for Virgin Galactic in terms of sub-orbital space travel tourism. However, Jeff Bezos may have been beaten to space by rival Richard Branson, but the billionaire American businessman is poised to make history next week aboard what would be the world’s first unpiloted suborbital flight with an all-civilian crew.
Bezos is due to be part of a four-person crew for a planned 11-minute ride to the edge of space on Tuesday. It will be inside his company Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft. That’s another milestone in the nascent and potentially lucrative space tourism sector.
Orion Span (bonus)
Orion Span is a space travel company in the United States. It announced plans for a private commercial space station, called the Aurora Space Station. This would be placed in low Earth orbit and would effectively function as a space hotel. It would be able to host up to six space tourists at a time.
The plans are still in the provisional stages. However, the company has already sold out several months’ worth of hotel reservations. The total cost of a space hotel reservation currently stands at more than £7 million. At present, Orion Span says it is hoping to host its first paying guests at the Aurora Space Station in the year 2022.
In a nutshell
Civilian space travel may finally become a reality starting later in 2021. However, there are safety and government requirements to conquer first. After that, people can start traveling to the edge of space for the experience of a lifetime.
Without a doubt, the burgeoning private interest in space is an unmatched technological milestone. Along with the booming new industry of space tourism, these trends allow better transfer of space technologies to fight Earthly problems. It will also boost private investment in science and technology. However, unregulated space travel could be a potential threat not just for travelers but also for the entire planet.
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