For nearly a century science fiction writers have predicted commercial space travel. They imagined consumers taking an interstellar cruise or simply hopping a shuttle from the earth to the moon for a vacation. Back in 1964 one science newsletter predicted that earthlings would be jaunting up to a space station by 1980 — for$11,700 which translates to about $90,000 in 2014 dollars.
Now, we know that space tourism isn’t a reality yet, but it will be by the end of the decade. Experts predict that 2020 is the year that private companies will begin sending people into space. It will likely be a quick trip out of the atmosphere, with a mere five minutes experiencing zero gravity before returning to land, but it still counts as space travel.
Billionaires in Space
The uber rich are already finding their way into space. For those with both the cash and the time for training, it is possible to take a two-week flight to the International Space Station. The current pricetag is estimated to be in the $30-50 million range.
Who can afford it? Richard Garriott, a video game developer from the US and Canadian Guy Laliberte, billionaire and Cirque du Soleil founder, have already been in space. News reports also state that Sarah Brightman, Britian’s most popular diva, started training in January for a trip to ISS in October of this year. There are numerous rumors about other moguls, pop stars, and celebrities with plans to go into space in the near future.
Space Travel for the Rest of Us
The pool of travelers who can afford the multi-million dollar fees is rather small. This is why so many private companies are competing to be the first to offer space travel to the masses. Well, the masses who can come up with a quarter of a million dollars for a short flight.
Virgin Galactic is already charging $250,000 to take passengers on a suborbital flight. KosmoKurs, a Russian space company, is pre-selling tickets that range from $200,000 to $250,000 for a round trip into space. Other companies hoping to cash in include Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Vulcan Aerospace. There are also a few Chinese companies in development who hope to enter the commercial space race.
What can you expect for your fare? You’ll have to pass health tests to ensure your body can survive both zero gravity and the extra g-forces of take off and landing. You’ll undergo training on how to handle the flight. Then you’ll board a ship (designs differ between companies) and be launched by rocket just beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Virgin is promising three to four minutes of zero gravity while KosmoKurs guarantees a full five minute experience. All commercial space flights are limited so that passengers won’t have to adapt to the changes in gravity but will simply enjoy their brief experience.
Whether you will actually have the opportunity to go into space in a mere five years depends on many factors, including whether you manage your money well enough to pay the fare ( It also depends on the ability of these companies to come through on their promise. Space craft are still be designed and tested and some designs aren’t holding up. Witness the crash of Virgin Galactic’s experimental flight in October 2014. It also depends on the state of the economy and the ability of said companies to meet the demand for space tourism. The price may go up or it may go down by the time the first flights take off. We’ll just have to wait and see.