More and more we are seeing headlines about future opportunities for regular people to go up to space. Whether it be new futuristic colonies on Mars or simple tourist trips into space, there’s no denying that it feels like we’re beginning to enter a Star Trek-like future. So how close are we to actually achieving this?
Recently, billionaire Jared Isaacman bought a Falcon 9 rocket launch from SpaceX and pledged to give away two seats on the first all-civilian space flight. This begs the question, how realistic is it to expect average people going up into space any time soon? Unfortunately, outside of the goodwill from billionaires it seems to be a long way away. As there have only been a few successful trips that took ‘space tourists’ outside our atmosphere, it seems that, while not impossible, it isn’t something average people can expect to get on as easily as a plane.
The world’s first fee-paying tourist to space was Dennis Tito, an American businessman and former Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) scientist. Tito visited the International Space Station (ISS) for seven days between April-May 2001 and paid a reported $US 20 million for the trip. No small fee for a one-week holiday.
Following Tito was South African man, Mark Shuttleworth, in April 2002 and Gregory Olsen in October 2005. There were a handful of others after this initial period and all of them were incredibly rich, paying $20 million for each trip. As of 2020, the company Space Adventures is the only one to successfully send tourism flights into Earth’s orbit. They’ve completed eight trips between 2001-2009 and every paying passenger has been ridiculously rich.
Space isn’t easy to get to and when we can visit it requires an incredible amount of work to even get a rocket into space let alone ensure everyone’s safety. The materials required are expensive to build the rocket. The price of fuel is expensive. Everything about space travel is ridiculously expensive and that’s actually the reason why these wealthy people have been able to go into space. These passenger flights were originally offered in order to offset some of the maintenance costs of the ISS. So, what hope does the average consumer have of going to space? A little more than you might think.
These ventures above were all orbital flights which is much further into space when compared to sub-orbital travel. Sub-orbital travel is travel that surpasses an altitude of 100 km. This is beyond the Karman Line, the arbitrarily defined boundary of space. These flights might be a more realistic option for the average person.
Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are two companies focused on bringing this kind of flight to consumers. Prices here are far more moderately estimated than the $20 million of previous flights. Tickets for Virgin Galactic are estimated to cost around $250,000 and Blue Origin is estimating $200,000 per ticket. While still expensive, it is just slightly more achievable.
Very recently, work has been announced to start on the world’s first space hotel! Developed by the Orbital Assembly Corporation (OAC) it is estimated to be operational as soon as 2027. This hotel is set to be placed in Earth’s low orbit and is set to have restaurants, cinemas, rooms for 400 guests. A pessimist might be sceptical about a 2027 opening date but who knows? Stranger things have happened. Prices have yet to be estimated but it is unlikely to be cheap.
If you really want to go to space, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin might be the most affordable option, but they are also unproven. These companies have only offered promises so far, with neither company having sent commercial passengers to space yet. Many of their ideas are still in development. If you wish to book a ticket you can, just remember that it is still a gamble. The space hotel as well is just a promise so far but with work beginning, it may be an option within our lifetimes. It is an exciting time for space travel and tourism in general. Who knows, maybe many of us will be astronauts in our lifetimes.