Until recently, only the best astronauts, space engineers, and rocket scientists could travel into space. When Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson blasted off into space in July 2021, however, they changed the rules of space travel.
These two privately funded trips represent important milestones in the history of space travel. Among other things, they marked the beginning of modern commercial space tourism. But what does it take for a civilian to go to space?
This article will discuss how to become a space tourist. In addition, we’ll talk about the companies dominating the space tourism market right now.
What Is Space Tourism?
Space tourism makes traveling to space possible for ordinary people. Unlike astronauts, space engineers, and scientists who undergo rigorous training, space tourists can go to space without prior training or knowledge. Of course, they do have some requirements they must meet, but we’ll get to that later.
It’s essential to know the distinction between orbital and suborbital space travel to understand what different space tourism companies have to offer.
Suborbital rockets are less powerful than orbital rockets, as they only can fly to the Karman Line, which is about 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface. Suborbital spacecraft fly at a speed of 3,700 miles per hour. Technically, therefore, they never make it into orbit. Instead, they just reach a certain altitude before descending back to Earth. Hence, flying in a suborbital spacecraft only takes a short time.
Orbital space travel is what most people have in mind when they think about traveling to space., Space rockets must travel 17,400 miles per hour to enter orbit. This velocity allows the rocket to reach an altitude of 248 miles, where the International Space Station is located.
Orbital space travel lasts for weeks or even months. Due to its duration and the number of resources required, orbital space tourism is significantly more expensive compared to suborbital space travel.
There have been some disagreements about the term “space tourist.” People who have already ventured into space prefer to call themselves “private space travelers” or nonprofessional or commercial astronauts since most of them were required to conduct scientific experiments of some sort. NASA uses “spaceflight participants” as the official term for space tourists.
Which Companies Offer Space Tourism?
Many people assume that space tourism is in the hands of government agencies like NASA. In actual fact, privately owned aerospace companies have influenced the rise of space tourism the most. While many companies are showing interest in the commercial space travel market, three stand out: Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX.
Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, is the world’s first commercial space line. In July 2021, he became the first space tourist in over ten years by traveling to space on board the Unity 22. The craft reached an altitude of 53.5 miles, almost reaching the Karman Line, before returning to the Spaceport America facility in New Mexico.
Virgin Galactic uses VSS Unity, a suborbital rocket-powered spaceplane; other space tourism companies use rockets or capsules. This spacecraft is launched by carrier planes, called White Knight Two. The Virgin Galactic spacecraft has room for six people, two of whom are pilots. The duration of the flight is 90 minutes.
Virgin Galactic believes that space belongs to everyone, so their main objective is to bring people closer to outer space. Tickets for Virgin Galactic are already available, as the company plans to send the VSS Unity to space three times per month in 2023. After that, Sir Richard Branson wants to organize 400 flights per year. There are over 700 people on the waiting list, and the first 300 seats for 2024 have already been booked.
Founded by Jeff Bezos in 2000, Blue Origin is Virgin Galactic’s greatest competitor. Blue Origin focuses on suborbital and orbital space travel but currently only offers suborbital flights. Just one week after Virgin Galactic’s first commercial flight, Jeff Bezos followed in Sir Richard Branson’s footsteps on board the New Shepard.
The entire trip lasted 11 minutes, with only three minutes of weightlessness. Even though it was shorter than Virgin Galactic’s flight, the New Shepard managed to cross the Karman Line, reaching an altitude of 66 miles (107 kilometers). Since then, the craft has flown on five more occasions, the last being in June 2022.
Blue Origin’s headquarters are in Washington, but the suborbital launch site is in West Texas. Passengers will be able to travel to space aboard the New Shepard, a suborbital launch vehicle that takes off and lands in a vertical position. It’s a fully reusable spacecraft that consists of a crew capsule and a 59-foot rocket.
Jeff Bezos has plans that go far beyond suborbital space travel. In October 2021, he announced the development of the Orbital Reef, a space business park that would be located in the lower Earth orbit (LEO). If everything goes according to plan, it should be operational by 2030.
SpaceX stands for Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Founded by Elon Musk in 2002, SpaceX was the last company from the “big three” to send civilians into space. This event took place in September 2021 and was the first all-civilian spaceflight. The passengers spent three days orbiting around the Earth, reaching an altitude of 335 miles (540 kilometers).
Even though SpaceX was the last to join the space tourism race, this company is far ahead of its competitors. Unlike Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk focuses all his attention on orbital space travel. His ultimate goal is to take people to the International Space Station, the Moon, and Mars.
Since the beginning of 2022, SpaceX has organized 18 rocket launches. In addition, the Falcon 9 series of rockets have been used for orbital space travel over 100 times.
In April 2022, SpaceX took part in the Axiom Mission 1, which included sending an all-civilian crew to the International Space Station for the first time. Again, the mission was a success. The space tourists traveled to the International Space Station on board the Crew Dragon Endeavour, where they spent 16 days.
How to Become a Space Tourist
Anyone can become a space tourist. You don’t need to be a professional astronaut or have special skills or experience. However, owing to the incredibly high price of space tourism, not everyone can afford it. In fact, right now, becoming a space tourist is only possible for exceptionally wealthy individuals.
The exact requirements of becoming a space tourist vary depending on the company. However, these aerospace companies set forth three essential requirements for becoming a space tourist: you need to be at least 18 years old, physically fit, and wealthy.
The crew that took off on the New Shepard in July 2021 consisted of the youngest (Oliver Daemen, 18) and the oldest (Wally Funk, 82) passengers who have ever been to space.
Regarding your physical health, you must be in relatively good shape to be a space tourist. For example, if you want to fly with Blue Origin, you need to be able to climb seven flights of stairs in under 90 seconds. This is also the same height as the launch tower, so it’s good practice.
There are also weight and height requirements. To be more precise, you need to weigh between 110 pounds (50 kilograms) and 223 (100 kilograms) to be a space tourist. Regarding height, passengers must be at least 5 feet (152 centimeters) and up to 6.4 feet (193 centimeters) tall. As you can conclude, space tourists can’t be too short, tall, underweight, or overweight.
Individuals with health issues are discouraged from participating in space tourism, especially on longer trips. Astronauts experience space sickness when they spend too much time in zero gravity. Space sickness is like the space version of motion sickness, which can happen to those who only spend a few minutes in space. This occurs because our bodies function differently when exposed to zero gravity.
Some short-term symptoms of space sickness include headaches, nausea, dizziness, puffiness, and even temporary anemia. Even though this condition is called space sickness, these symptoms usually start when you return to Earth. For this reason, space tourists need to be in good health, or they could feel sick for days after the trip.
Space tourists must undergo a training program to prevent space sickness or other issues. Therefore, those who plan to go on an orbital space trip need more training than suborbital space tourists. Moreover, suborbital space training only lasts a couple of days, while orbital space training could last for months.
Virgin Galactic will also provide passengers with a fully immersive training program, Under Armor spacesuits, and all the necessary equipment. The training program lasts for five days. On the other hand, Blue Origin’s training program will last for only two days. During this time, passengers will get an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the New Shepard, visit the capsule simulator, and learn about their upcoming journey to space.
Although it’s not required, some aspiring space tourists prepare for the trip by vising zero-gravity simulators. One of the most popular is the Zero Gravity Experience, which lets you experience what it’s like to be in space without going there. But, of course, astronauts must also spend some time in zero-gravity simulators to see what it’s like and get used to living in zero gravity for the next few months.
The Cost of Traveling to Space
Traveling to space is definitely not cheap. The initial cost for one ticket with Virgin Galactic was between $200,000 and $250,000. The ticket prices have since increased to $450,000.
When it comes to Blue Origin, there still isn’t an official price. However, Oliver Daemen, one of the four passengers on the first New Shepard takeoff, paid $28 million for his ticket. Some sources say a Blue Origin ticket will cost around $300,000, but this hasn’t been confirmed yet.
Traveling with Space X costs even more. Four civilians were on board when the Falcon 9 achieved its first orbital launch in September 2021. Each of them had to pay $50 million for a seat. Buying tickets for the Dragon capsule developed by Space Exploration Technologies will be possible soon. This orbital space flight costs around $20 million per seat. Passengers will also get the seven-crew package for $140 million.
Even though space tourism prices are going through the roof now, many believe they will go down after a few years. This is because when the world’s first airlines were introduced, only wealthy members of society could afford tickets. Today, traveling by plane has become much more affordable and commonplace. The same will probably happen with space travel.
Even if you have the money to become a space tourist, you might still not get your chance anytime soon. The seats on both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic flights have been booked for the next two years.
Some companies, like Virgin Galactic, let you book tickets for space flights in advance. However, the first available tickets are for flights taking place in 2025.
Space Is for Everyone
To quote Sir Richard Branson – space should be for everyone. This new era of space tourism has made it possible for civilians to travel to space. Right now, only astronauts and extremely wealthy individuals can afford to do so, but this will probably change in the future.
No matter how unlikely it seems, everyone should be given a chance to view the Earth from outer space, experience weightlessness, and see the Moon and all the other celestial wonders.