Space Is The Place

Frontiers, Star City, Travel Special

If you’re looking to book your next adventure, consider going out of this world. Soon, you too can be one of the few people in space as a number of companies are beginning to offer vacations to infinity and beyond.

Presumed to be the leader in the commercial space race, Virgin Galactic offers a two-and-half hour flight to outer space on a custom-made rocket ship, featuring five minutes of weightlessness. Included in the ticket price of $200,000 is a three-day trip to Spaceport America in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where travelers will be trained before their journey. With just a $20,000 deposit, bookings can be made directly online for trips to lift off tentatively by next Christmas. Nearly 500 have signed up so far.

But Virgin Galactic flights will not actually orbit the Earth—the short excursions will be more like epic roller coaster rides. If you’re willing to spend a bit extra, try Space Adventures for a full flyby of Earth (see commercial above). Profiled in the latest issue of Air & Space Magazine, Space Adventures is the forerunner of the industry, founded in 1998 by Eric Anderson. The company established itself by reserving seats on Russian rockets for ultrawealthy space enthusiasts (at a going rate of $20–35 million); however, since Russia halted orbital space tourism in 2010, going to the moon will be Space Adventures’ next primary travel offering. Despite the $150 million ticket fare (and $110,000 deposit), around 200 have signed up to date.

Before you start shopping for space suits and working on your playlist, be mindful of safety risks. The United States’ previous attempts at civilian space flight programs were canceled after the Challenger disaster in 1986, and the Columbia accident in 2003. Thankfully, global insurance giant Allianz announced it would introduce insurance for space travel later this year, covering a range of possible problems like last-minute cancellations and medical issues before or after the flight.

It could be said that commercial tourism cheapens the romance of space travel to a certain extent, reducing the courageousness of extraterrestrial exploration to an exclusive opportunity for the 1%. It may be so for now, but private competition will undoubtedly induce innovation and drive down the costs of space travel. According to The New York Times, there is already a rising group of technology entrepreneurs who have ventured into space projects, including Elon Musk of Paypal, Jeffrey P. Bezos of Amazon.com, and Paul G. Allen, a founder of Microsoft.

With government-sponsored initiatives on the rocks, this kind of free-market innovation will likely be the saving grace of space travel, enabling more trips in general—including the research missions that yield delights like the most high definition image of Earth. Until commercial space flight prices drop though, better start saving your pennies.