Have you always wanted to visit space? Well, that trip may be closer than you might think.
You’ve probably heard of some of the biggest players in the space tourism game: Jeff Bezo is planning to send civilians on crewed missions to space through his company Blue Origin, Sir Richard Branson has been testing SpaceShipTwo, the Virgin Galactic vehicle, and numerous other private companies have plans for their own space tourism programs.
History of Space Travel
In 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, into space. Just four years later, Yuri Gagarin was the first human who orbited the Earth, reaching an altitude of 202 miles. In January 1958, Explorer 1, the first U.S satellite, went into orbit. Alan Shepard was the first American to fly into space in 1961, while John Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962.
1969 was the year Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, and six Appollo missions explored the surface of the moon between 1969 and 1972. By the early 70s, the Mariner was mapping and orbiting Mars, and the Voyager sent back images of Saturn, Jupiter, their moons, and their rings by the end of the decade.
In 1981, the Columbia became a reusable shuttle for military and civilian space missions. Then, in 1986, the Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, killing seven people, including a teacher named Christa McAuliffe who was going to be the first civilian in space.
Since November 2000, the International Space Station has been a symbol of cooperation, as many different countries (once competitors) work together. The station is serviced by many different spacecraft and has been visited by space tourists, cosmonauts, and astronauts from 17 different countries.
Now, Mars is the focal point of most space exploration, and NASA wants to send humans to Mars by the 2030s.
How Will Space Tourism Work?
Despite reluctance from NASA, Dennis Tito (an American businessman), was the first space tourist, paying $20 million to fly into space abroad a Russian Soyuz rocket, staying on the International Space Station for one week in 2001. In 2002, South African Businessman Mark Shuttleworth did the same, followed by another American businessman, Greg Olsen in 2005.
In December 2013, Virgin Galactic conducted its first trip, taking the spaceplane VSS Unity to near-space- an altitude of 51.4 miles. This year, Virgin has been conducting more test flights, with the ultimate aim of taking passengers (including Richard Branson) to space.
The company has already been selling tickets on Virgin Galactic, and more than 700 people have paid between $200,00 and $250,000. Each flight will take six passengers who will have incredible views of earth and experience complete weightlessness for several minutes before returning to Earth.
Blue Origin has taken the industry by storm with New Shepard, a reusable rocket which already has 10 trips to space under its belt. Soon, the company will be launching humans, and rumors are that Blue Origin will begin selling tickets in 2019, with prices similar to Virgin. Unlike Virgin, passengers will return to Earth via a parachute.
Two private US companies- Boeing and SpaceX are expected to begin sending astronauts into space this year. This is a big step toward making space tourism cheaper and more accessible, and SpaceX has mentioned potentially offering trips to the Moon by 2023.
Space tourism has long been a staple in popular culture. Movies like The Martian, movies like Aurora, and references to space travel on shows like The Big Bang Theory have continued to stoke the fires of curiousity on Earth.
For now, space tourism is for millionaires. In the near future, however, it may be more accessible than we could’ve ever dreamed.