Will space be an exotic retreat reserved for only the wealthy? Or will middle-class folks have a chance to take their families to space? Make no mistake about it, going to space will be the most expensive vacation you ever take. Prices right now are in the tens of millions of dollars. Currently, the only vehicles that can take you into space are the space shuttle and the Russian Soyuz, both of which are terribly inefficient. Each spacecraft requires millions of pounds of propellant to take off into space, which makes them expensive to launch. One pound of payload costs about $10,000 to put into Earth orbit.
NASA and Lockheed Martin worked on a single-stage-to-orbit launch space plane, called the VentureStar, that supposedly would've been launched for about a tenth of what the space shuttle costs to launch. However, the program was canceled in late 2001 after a prototype suffered problems during testing as well as scheduling issues and cost overruns. Perhaps NASA's latest spacecraft project, the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, will replace the shuttle as a means to transport tourists to space. Check out How the Orion CEV Will Work to learn more.
In 1998, a joint report from NASA and the Space Transportation Association stated that improvements in technology could push fares for space travel as low as $50,000, and possibly down to $20,000 or $10,000 a decade later. The report concluded that at a ticket price of $50,000, there could be 500,000 passengers flying into space each year. While still omitting many people, these prices would open up space to a tremendous amount of traffic.
If you don't want to wait for space hotels and cruise ships, Space Adventures offers passengers an array of options, such as:
- Zero-gravity flight program
- MiG-25 Edge of space program
- MiG-21 High-G flight program
- Spacewalk adventure program
Although most of these programs also include a two- or three-night stay in Moscow, prices start at close to $10,000 and go higher. Still too much money for your budget? Some, including Apollo 11 astronaut and ShareSpace Foundation chairman Buzz Aldrin, have proposed a space-trip lottery system to give everyone a chance to go.
Since the beginning of the space race, the general public has said, "Isn't that great -- when do I get to go?" Well, our chance might be closer than ever. Within the next 20 years, space planes could be taking off for the Moon at the same frequency as airplanes flying between New York and Los Angeles.
For more information on space tourism and related topics, check out the links on the next page.