While it's true that money can't buy you happiness, it can certainly buy you a ticket to the International Space Station. Just ask multimillionaire Dennis Tito, who became the first space tourist in 2001, or Cirque du Soleil owner Guy Laliberté, who became the first clown in space in 2009. If you have the cash, then the Russian Federal Space Agency has the time.
But what about those of us who aren't international circus moguls or adventure-loving business tycoons? Will space tourism ever be a reality for the rest of us?
Companies such as Richard Branson's Virgin Group are betting big bucks that the answer is "yes." In fact, for a mere $20,000 deposit on a $200,000 ticket, you can go ahead and reserve a seat aboard Branson's Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, slated to become the first commercial spacecraft when it launches in the next few years.
Each flight will take six passengers on a two-and-a-half-hour jaunt into suborbital space -- that's 68 miles (110 kilometers) above the surface of the Earth. Once there, passengers will get to float free from their seats and gaze out at a view that Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides describes as "a transformative experience." Continents, oceans and storm systems will stretch silently below while the void of space spans overhead.
If $200,000 still sounds like a hefty price tag, that's because outer space is an expensive destination -- even if you don't plan to spend the night. NASA spends about $10,000 just to get a pound of payload into orbit [source: NASA].
If you thought the flight was pricy, just consider the expense of hanging out in orbit. The International Space Station came with a price tag of somewhere between $35 billion and $100 billion [source: Boyle]. That includes material, supplies, engineering, communications and life-support systems. Such are the costs of overcoming the planet's gravity and bedding down in an incredibly hostile environment.
Still, companies such as Canada's Space Island Group and even Hilton Hotels have eyed the long-term goal of establishing orbital accommodations for tomorrow's space tourists. For that goal to become a reality, however, spaceflight technologies will have to both improve tremendously and become more economically feasible. In addition, there's the added health issue. Modern astronauts brave harrowing g-forces, the risk of radiation exposure and guaranteed bone mass loss. As space tourism becomes increasingly real, government agencies will undoubtedly take an increased interest in passenger safety.
Space tourism is already a reality and has been since 2001. Your options are severely limited by both modern technology (or the lack thereof) and the high costs of reaching orbit, but the tickets are already on sale.
Explore the links below for even more information about space tourism.
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More Great Links
- "Advanced Space Transportation Program: Paving the Highway to Space." NASA. (July 23, 2010)http://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/news/background/facts/astp.html_prt.htm
- Attenborough, Stephen. Personal interview. Conducted 7/28/2010
- Boyle, Alan. "What's the cost of the space station?" MSNBC. Aug. 25, 2006. (July 23, 2010)http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14505278/
- Virgin Galactic. 2010. (July 23, 2010)http://www.virgingalactic.com/
- Whitesides, George. Personal interview. Conducted 7/29/2010.