Space is — as Star Trek puts it — the "final frontier". Commercial space tourism is still a tiny market by anyone's standard, but it has definitely arrived — for those who can afford it.
While very few can go to space, everyone with good eyes can see it for free, and do amateur astronomy from anywhere on Earth's surface.
Outer space, or simply space, symbolizes all that is impossibly remote from us, yet it's actually remarkably close — the most common definition is that space begins just 100 km (62 mi) above earth's sea level, a boundary known as the Kármán line. Above that height, you need space technology to get there and to survive, as even high-altitude aviation technology won't suffice. Space is characterized by near-vacuum, with the atmosphere dwindling away to a few atoms per cubic meter in interplanetary space, and by microgravity or freefall, creating the sensation of weightlessness.
A further paradox of space is that it's mapped and managed in great detail, more than many places on our own world. Bygone explorers setting out into new continents or seas had little idea what lay before them or where their journey might lead, and they might be out of contact with home for years. Those heading into space have very precise trajectories, computed to the split-second to take advantage of gravitational forces. Throughout the day they coordinate with mission control, and in their free time, they can have audio and video calls with their families at the speed of light.
- This page does not cover the myriad natural bodies found in space, such as planets, moons, and stars. We have a separate article for the Moon, but no other heavenly bodies are destinations for humans — yet!
Outer space was not well understood for millennia. People believed that the atmosphere extended upwards indefinitely, and if you could rise high enough on balloons or flying contraptions, you would eventually reach the moon and the stars. Astronomers could only observe the stars with their naked eyes, and without understanding Newtonian physics, the Sun and other stars were assumed to rotate around the Earth.
Around the 1600s, advances in math, physics, and technology began to reshape our understanding. Telescopes demonstrated what lay beyond our own world when we could observe the moons of Jupiter and phases of Venus. Through the theory of gravity and Newtonian physics we discovered that outer space is a vacuum, and why stars, planets, and moons orbit each other the way they do. Many more advances in the 1800s kindled more interest, with photography revealing details of our Moon and the identification of other galaxies. Futurist works of early science fiction like Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon (1865) whetted the public's appetite for space travel.
Due to the lack of atmosphere, you can't fly airplanes or hot air balloons to space. To date, only one method of reaching space has been possible with our existing technology: rocketry. The Chinese invented gunpowder sometime in the 9th century AD, if not earlier, and used it for propulsion in rockets in the 13th and 14th centuries, even creating multi-stage ballistic rockets. Soon rockets were used around the world, although for much of that time they remained fairly unsophisticated, not much more than militarized fireworks. Inspired by the idea of exploring space, in the 20th century Russian teacher Konstantin Tsiolkovsky published landmark papers calculating the feasibility of modern types of rocket (using liquid fuels) and the requirements to reach orbit, and American scientist Robert Goddard experimented with rocket designs that would vastly improve their efficiency, range, and payload.
While early 20th century rocketry pioneers had their eyes on the stars, rockets had not yet escaped their military origins. By 1944 Germany had built the V-2, the first ballistic missile, to rain down on targets at speeds that made it invulnerable to anti-aircraft guns and fighters. The V-2 rose to 80 km before dropping onto its target, and some straight-up test firings were the first to pass the Kármán line, reaching 174 km. At the end of the war, the victors frantically sought to capture German equipment, plans, and above all the rocket scientists and engineers. The development of long-range ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) created the Cold War between the USA and USSR, but the advancing technology also led to the Space Race as both nations competed for various "firsts" in spaceflight.
The trick with spaceflight is that it's not about going high... it's about going fast. In low Earth orbit, that means speeds around 7.8 km/s (28,000 km/h or 17,000 mph), which is enough to circle the entire Earth in about 90 minutes. Under the leadership of engineer Sergei Korolev, the Soviet Union got this first in 1957 when Sputnik 1 successfully orbited the Earth for 21 days. Several other Soviet firsts would follow, including Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space. While initially lagging behind, the U.S. program, with its team of rocket scientists led by Wernher von Braun (designer of the German V-2), caught up during the 1960s and was neck-and-neck with the Soviet program for several years. Then, in 1967 the breakneck pace of development resulted in fatal disasters for both programs: a fire during a test of the U.S. Apollo 1 which killed all three astronauts, and the crash of the Soviet Soyuz 1 which killed its cosmonaut. It took more than 18 months for the two programs to recover.
The U.S. recovered and even picked up its pace, landing Apollo 11 on the Moon on July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin exited their lander and walked on the Moon, a spectacle watched live by some 723 million people (more than one-fifth the population of Earth). Six more missions followed through December 1972. Meanwhile, the Soviet program had quietly run into problems developing its lunar rocket; having lost the race to the Moon, the USSR concentrated on orbital space stations, launching the first of several Salyut stations in 1971 and Mir in 1986. Space seemed very close; at one point, tickets to the Moon and as-yet-nonexistent space stations were being sold. Interest in Space Race one-upmanship wound down as the political climate evolved, and a new sense of reality set in. The wild dreams of the 1960s and 70s died as the public realized the cheap and easy space tourism they'd been promised wasn't forthcoming.
Satellites have become quite accessible (relatively speaking), and 9 countries and 3 private companies have launched a total of around 9,000 public and private satellites for weather observation, telecommunication, navigation, astronomy, scientific research, and reconnaissance. Crewed missions, however, have remained the domain of a small number of organizations, and since 1972 have only been conducted in low Earth orbit; travel beyond Earth's orbit has (for the time being) become the exclusive domain of humanity's robotic explorers.
China became the third country to put a person into orbit with the launch of Shenzhou 5 in October 2003, prompting speculation that they might advance quickly and become the second nation to land people on the Moon. However, development has proceeded at a pace similar to other programs, with only six crewed missions launched in close to 20 years. In the near future, they're working towards a space station that may be crewed by 2022, and robotic missions to Mars and asteroids in 2020-2024.
In a way, the new Space Race is the one to decrease costs, and it's been a long and difficult one. Rockets and spacecraft are expensive to design, and expensive to build. Reusable launch systems seemed like a logical next step, but so far they have proven more costly than expendable ones. The U.S. Space Shuttle, despite operating for 30 years, became something of a white elephant as the large design the Air Force requested never led to any Air Force contracts, and refitting the orbiter between launches proved massively more expensive and time-consuming than expected. (By contrast, Russia has been operating derivatives of the same expendable rocket for more than 60 years.)
Although rockets and space vehicles have always been built by private contractors, the development of private space companies for launch systems has been slow, and for crewed missions even slower. In 2004 Scaled Composites won the $10 million Ansari X Prize by launching the reusable crewed SpaceShipOne on suborbital flights twice within two weeks, but as of 2020 neither it nor its successor SpaceShipTwo have been used for any commercial flights. SpaceX has made enormous strides since the 2000s by vertically integrating, building almost all technology in house. In December 2015, their reusable Falcon 9 rocket achieved a milestone by autonomously returning to its landing site and landing upright (a feat they've repeated dozens of times, landing on the ground and on floating barges), and in May 2020 SpaceX became the first private company to launch humans to orbit.
With the fundamentals of space travel having been practiced for more than half a century, short missions no longer offer as much reward, and long-duration joint projects such as the International Space Station (ISS) have become the norm for crewed space exploration. These enable scientists to perform experiments lasting months or years and to study the effects of long-term habitation in space. Even so, budget concerns have been paramount ever since the climax of the Space Race, with funding everywhere slashed. Desperate for funds, the Russian Space Agency began to sell seats on Soyuz launches. Businessman Dennis Tito became the first pay-to-fly space tourist in April 2001, paying US$20 million for a seven-day trip to the ISS. Since then a handful have followed in his footsteps, some of them even on more than one flight.
Most of the people to visit space so far have been astronauts or cosmonauts — professionals who are paid to train for and perform spaceflights. The distinction between the names is largely one of respect, with "cosmonaut" being reserved for members of the Russian Space Agency and "astronaut" being used by NASA, ESA, CSA, JAXA, and essentially all others.
The remaining few are commonly referred to as space tourists. As this conjures an image of someone in a polyester shirt with a camera around their neck, NASA and RKA prefer the term space flight participant. This is rather more accurate, as to date all participants have spent much of their time in space helping to perform scientific experiments. A more careful distinction might be drawn between government-funded participants from other nations that don't have a permanent astronaut program (such as Brazil, Malaysia, and UAE) and self-funded tourists who paid their way into space.
As of 2020, there are only two programs sending humans into orbit.
- Launched in 1998, the International Space Station (ISS) has been continuously crewed since 2000. As of 2020, transportation to the ISS is provided by Russian Soyuz missions and SpaceX.
- The Chinese Shenzhou program has performed 6 crewed missions since 2003, with the next one expected in 2021 to populate the new Chinese space station that's being assembled.
Like polar bases and other multinational ventures, space travel uses the languages of the craft's operators, peppered very heavily with a lot of technical jargon. English is the working language of space, used for many space operations and international coordination on the ground. Russian is the secondary language; some signs and labels on the ISS are bilingual, and Soyuz missions use exclusively Russian until reaching the ISS.
On the ISS, English is generally the working language, but astronaut and cosmonaut crews must be fairly fluent in both English and Russian (often talking with each other in an English-Russian hybrid, typically speaking the native language of whoever they're talking to, and substituting words they don't know in the foreign language). Space tourists on the ISS must know at least "enough English to get by", and, as all tourists to date have flown on Soyuz missions, have needed some basic ability in Russian (250 hours of language training during 6 months of study, or about 2 hours per day).
|“||Given ships or sails adapted to the breezes of heaven, there will be those who will not shrink from even that vast expanse.||”|
—Johannes Kepler, AD 1610
Or he might have said "expense". Kepler, Galileo, and Jules Verne didn't have $40 million rattling in their pockets to fund a trip into space, but they all contributed to the possibility of travel there. So can you.
- On earth there are many museums, launch facilities, and other centers that demonstrate the history and science of space travel. These are good preparation if you seriously hope to get into space, and they're a fun day out even if you never go. Those described below in "See" are some of the best, and see their host city pages for travel practicalities.
- Astronomy is a way of exploring space that you can do in your backyard if it's relatively free of ambient light. Astronomy itself has now traveled into space, with the Hubble Space Telescope and other imaging systems, and even earth-based astronomy is often big-ticket high-tech science. Yet amateur astronomers with simple equipment — even the naked eye — continue to make discoveries. The ISS is easily (though briefly) visible from the ground; see NASA 's ISS timetable for viewing in your location. It's a bright golden object, lit by the sun reflecting off its panels, and moving rapidly retrograde — west to east. After a couple of minutes it turns ruby then vanishes as it orbits through sunset into night.
- Cybertourism can provide immersive viewing, and the quality is rapidly improving: realistic 3D imaging, interactive exploration of a landscape, and interaction with fellow travelers are all within current technology. This may become the dominant mode of tourism for fragile and hostile environments and looks well-suited to space. A related mode is by ROV — a remote-operated or semi-autonomous vehicle that explores the terrain. These are very expensive pieces of equipment, but their images can populate the cyber version.
- Microgravity can be encountered briefly without leaving earth's atmosphere. See "Do" for options.
- Work is how most people who have gone to space have gotten there so far. Getting selected for an astronaut/cosmonaut program is a very long shot, but since everything about space travel involves a ballistic long shot, it's the best hope for would-be travelers who aren't super-rich.
- Tourist space flight is possible, if you can afford it and genuinely think that's the best use of all that money. It's described under "Do" since the experience of space and travel to get there are much the same.
Most space travelers remain inside their spacecraft and use its propulsion systems to get around. As orbital mechanics is extremely unintuitive and fuel for maneuvering is quite limited, these tasks are best left to a qualified pilot.
Inside your craft, you can very easily move around using your hands and feet. Craft are designed with ample handholds and footholds for moving yourself around as well as anchoring yourself in place while you're working. You're unlikely to get stuck out of reach of one, as momentum, air currents, and other minuscule movements of your craft make it difficult to remain perfectly stationary. However, if you do, you could be stuck for quite a while (many minutes, possibly even hours). Whenever you reach out for a surface, the rest of your body will move away just as much, preventing you from reaching anything. "Swimming" through the air doesn't work either, since unlike water, air offers very little mass to push against. Your best bet, other than asking for help, is to throw something reasonably heavy, such as your clothes, which will propel you slowly in the opposite direction.
Occasionally, space travelers need to do extra-vehicular activity, or EVA, where they exit their craft to access scientific experiments or perform repairs. For this, you need a very rugged spacesuit, which provides breathable air and protects you from the vacuum of space, harmful radiation, and extremes of temperature (from near absolute zero in the shade to absolutely roasting in the ferocious sunlight).
While you can zoom around to your heart's content inside your craft, outside of it you can easily become your own satellite with no propulsion of your own, potentially doomed to a short life until your air supply runs out in a few hours. Maneuvering units with small thrusters have been used a handful of times (most recently in 1990), but the safety risk is considered too great, and the scant advantages are certainly not worth the potential trouble. Today an emergency-use one is worn on all EVAs but has never yet been used outside of tests. EVAs are always conducted tethered, and often not just tethered but firmly attached to the Canadarm2 grappling arm so your crewmates can move you around.
Moving things in a weightless environment is not intuitive, and doing it right takes practice and training. Sure, you can push or pull a massive object just as easily as a tiny one, but what's really happening is that you and the object are moving towards or away from each other. If you try to use a screwdriver, for example, what will actually happen is that the screw and the spacecraft it's attached to will rotate a tiny amount, while your comparatively small body rotates the rest of the way in the opposite direction — not at all what you were trying to accomplish!
What you need to do is anchor yourself to the spacecraft so you can turn the screwdriver and screw without turning the craft. On Earth, gravity holds you to the ground with the force of your whole bodyweight, but in space, you have to use muscle power to provide that force. (Imagine holding a block of wood in your hand, and trying to put a screw in it. It's much harder than trying to put a screw in a wall.) Astronauts practice in neutral buoyancy pools, large pools where objects underwater are balanced to neither float nor sink. Many tasks in space, particularly during EVAs, are performed very slowly and methodically.
On Earth: museums etc
Space travel has such a long history that most major centers on earth have played a part in it, now displayed in their local museum. Only a selection of top sights are listed below.
- 1 [dead link] Beijing Planetarium (北京天文馆; Běijīngtiānwénguǎn), 138 Xizhimenwai St (西直门外大街138号; Xīzhíménwàidàjiē), Beijing, China (at exit D of the Beijing Zoo station of the subway), ☏ . Closed M-Tu, 9:30AM-3:30PM W-F, 9:30AM-4:30PM Sa-Su. This is the first large-scale planetarium in China, with two buildings, one old and one new. The old building has a Foucault pendulum, a device used to show the Earth's rotation, and an exhibition with many facts about space. The new building has more stuff than the old one, and has models of all the planets. There are also exhibitions about the Sun and the Big Bang in the new building. Four theaters (two 3D theaters and two dome-shaped theaters) play more than 10 movies. Adults (aged 18 to 59): ¥10, children aged between 6 and 18: ¥8, children aged below 6 or seniors aged above 60: free, you'll have to pay more for the movies..
- 2 Canada Aviation and Space Museum, 11 Aviation Parkway, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (located at the tip of Aviation Pkwy, Aviation Pkwy starts from Ontario Highway 417, a.k.a. Queensway), ☏ , fax: , ✉ contact@IngeniumCanada.org. 9AM-5PM daily. Not to be confused with Canada Air and Space Museum, which is a whole different museum. The Canada Aviation and Space Museum has five exhibitions, of which three are about space and not aviation. Life in Orbit: The International Space Station is about life in the ISS and how the astronauts handle a microgravity environment. There's a model of the ISS that you an climb in! Canada in Space is an overview of Canada's most notable space achievements, including a full-scale model of the satellite Alouette-1 and the Disorientation Station, which you can climb in and spin and get dizzy. And finally, Health in Space: Daring to Explore is about the effect of outer space on humans, such as microgravity and cosmic radiation. Adults (aged 18 to 59): $15, seniors (aged 60 or over): $13, children aged 3 to 17: $10, children under 3: free.
- 3 Johnson Space Center, 1601 NASA Parkway, Houston, Texas, USA (exit out Saturn Lane in NASA Parkway), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 10AM-5PM most days, 10AM-6PM or 9AM-6PM some days, there's more information on the website. Mission Control for Space Shuttle and International Space Station activities, with an adjacent museum. In the museum, there's the Starship Gallery, which includes the Apollo 17 command module and a touchable moon rock. The International Space Station Gallery has interactive live shows and real ISS artifacts, and the Mission Mars gallery is an interactive exhibition about Mars. Outside, Independence Plaza has a model of a Space Shuttle that you're able to go in. There's a rocket park nearby, and it's available for personal tours. Adults (age 12 and up): $29.95, children aged 4 to 11: $24.95, children aged 3 and under: free, seniors: $27.95.
- 4 Mars Desert Research Station, 2200 Cow Dung Road, Hanksville, Utah, USA (beside Utah State Route 24 just outside Hanksville), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Experience how it would be to live on Mars. The campus includes 6 buildings: the two-story round habitat with a diameter of 28 ft (8.5 m), two observatories, the GreenHab (a crop farming lab), the Science Dome (a lab and control center for the entire station) and the RAMM (Repair and Maintenance Module). $750 per week.
- 5 Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics (Музей космонавтики, a.k.a. Memorial Museum of Astronautics or Memorial Museum of Space Exploration), 111 Prospekt Mira, 129223 Moscow, Russia (right beside the VDNKh metro station), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. M closed, Tu, W, F, Sa 10:00-19:00, Th, Su 10:00-21:00. M, Tu closed, Th 11:00-21:00, all other days 11:00-19:00 for the Sergey Korolev Memorial House. A large space museum with over 98,000 items about Soviet and Russian space exploration, located inside the base of the Monument of the Conquerors of Space. There's a Soyuz rocket and a duplicate of the very first artificial satellite inside. Tours are available for booking and can be in English. Not far from the Museum is the Sergey Korolev Memorial House, which is the house where Sergey Korolev, the designer of the first artificial satellite, once lived. This house is also a museum, with over 13,000 items about Sergey Korolev's life. 250 руб for individual visitors for both the museum and the memorial house, 750 руб for families with 2 adults and 2 children aged 7-17, 2250 руб for tours with groups of less than 15 people.
- 6 Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace (Air and Space Museum), Paris, France (take Line 7 of the Métro to La Courneuve and then take bus line 152 to Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace, it is next to Le Bourget airport), ☏ . Oct-Mar: Tu-Su 10:00-17:00; Apr-Sep: Tu-Su 10:00-18:00. One of the earliest air and space museums in the world, over 100 years old. There are 12 halls (exhibitions) in the museum, one of which is about space: La conquête spatiale. There are many models of rockets and satellites. Of the four activities, the planetarium and Planète Pilote are space-related. The planetarium has a large dome-shaped screen with 7,039 stars and 20 deep space objects. Planète Pilote is dedicated to 6 to 12 year olds, but parents and teachers may enter. It has an aviation part and a space part, and more than 40 interactive activities. Permanent exhibitions: free; activities for adults/under 26: €9/7 for 1 activity, €14/11 for 2, €17/13 for 3, €21/17 for 4. The Paris Museum Pass can be used here..
- 7 Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, 600 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC, USA (in the National Mall near Interstate 395, close to the L'Enfant Plaza Metrorail stop), ☏ . Daily 10AM-5:30PM. This museum has exhibits about aviation, and three about space exploration. Space Race is about the Space Race and features a model of the Hubble Space Telescope. Moving Beyond Earth is about modern space exploration. It includes presentation stages and gigantic drawings of Earth and the ISS on the wall. Finally, Exploring the Universe is about the exploration of the Solar System, and it contains models of the Voyager space probes and the Curiosity Mars rover. Admission free, parking $15.
- 8 U.S. Space and Rocket Center, 1 Tranquility Base, Huntsville, Alabama, USA (at Exit 15 of Interstate 565), ☏ . Daily 9AM-5PM. Features a Saturn V rocket that was never launched and also includes exhibits on the "Space Race", the programs that led up to the moon visits, and the ISS. There is a planetarium and a National Geographic theater, with 6 different shows available. Outside of the museum are replicas and test units for numerous other space vehicles, including life-size replicas of the Space Shuttle and a vertical Saturn V. There are also space simulators outside to experience what it would be like if you're in space. The Spark!Lab contains many design challenges for you to work on. Adults (age 13 and up): $25, children aged 5 to 12: $17, children aged 4 and under: free.
On Earth: launch sites and labs
- 9 Baikonur Cosmodrome (Космодром Байконур), Baikonur, Kazakhstan (go north through Korolev Avenue and turn right at the end of the road), ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. The rocket launch site of Sputnik 1 and Yuri Gagarin in Kazakhstan, and to this day the main Soyuz launch site. Long strictly off-limits, but now open to limited tourism. Several tour companies operate tours to here, including Star City tours and Baikonur Cosmodrome tours. The Baikonur Cosmodrome plus the entire city of Baikonur is off-limits unless you get a special permit, which is usually done through your tour company. Star City tours: ~1,687,000 tenge (€3500) for regular tour, ~2,050,000 tenge (€4800) for VIP tour; Baikonur Cosmodrome tours: ~1,153,000 tenge (€2700) for regular tour, ~2,050,000 tenge (€4800) for VIP tour.
- 10 Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), 4800 Oak Grove Dr, Pasadena, California, USA (Go north through Oak Grove Drive and turn right at the end of the road), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The designers of the Curiosity Mars rover and the Voyager space probes, it gives public lectures monthly. Tours need to be reserved at least 3 weeks ahead, and they are 2-2.5 hours in length. Passport/identification are required to enter the lab. Free.
- 11 Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA (go east through Florida State Road 528 and turn left at Florida State Road 3), ☏ , toll-free: . Daily 9AM-6PM or 9AM-7PM; rarely 9AM-8PM; closed sometimes for launch days. This busy tourist attraction offers museums, movies, a rocket garden, and bus tours of former shuttle preparation and launch facilities. This is an official federal site — however, the visitor complex is run by contractors for a profit, so prices are comparable to private tourist attractions, not a typical national park. Basic admission (a 1-day pass) includes an excellent bus tour (including the complimentary bus tour of Launch Complex 39 and the Apollo/Saturn V Center), the museums (including the exhibit featuring the Space Shuttle Atlantis), and the IMAX movies. Additional special tours or programs should be booked in advance since they sell out quickly. Cape Canaveral also includes the Air Force Space and Missile Museum. 1-day pass: adults (12+) $57, children (3-11) $47. Discounts and other passes available. Parking $10.
- 12 Guiana Space Centre (Centre Spatial Guyanais), Kourou, French Guiana, ☏ (museum and tours), (rocket launches), fax: (museum and tours), (rocket launches), ✉ email@example.com (museum and tours), firstname.lastname@example.org (rocket launches). Museum: M-Sa 8AM-6PM. The European Space Agency's launch site in French Guiana, with a space museum nearby. The space museum has 2 floors, with 7 permanent exhibits and a planetarium. The launch site offers tours twice a day, one 8AM-11:30 and one 1PM-4:30; these must be reserved 48 hours in advance. Children under 8 cannot go on the tour. You can watch rocket launches from a distance of 7 km, 15 km, or 20 km. Children under 8 cannot watch rocket launches, and children between 8 and 16 are sometimes not allowed to watch rocket launches. Museum: adults (11+) €7 (€4 on Saturdays), children (3-10) €4 (€2.5 on Saturdays), children under 3 free.
- 13 Mojave Spaceport, 1434 Flight Line, Building 58, Mojave, California, USA (turn left to Airport Blvd. at the Mojave-Barstow Highway), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Plane Crazy Saturdays are on the third Saturday of each month. The first FAA-certified spaceport and the home of Scaled Composites' private spaceflight program. It does not offer tours, but there are Plane Crazy Saturdays which are open to the public and allow you to see what the spaceport is like.
- 14 Columbus Control Centre, Weßling (outside Munich), Germany. Used for controlling the Columbus research laboratory of the International Space Station, as well as a ground control centre for the Galileo satellite navigation system. Open to the public depending on mission status.
- 15 Star City (Звёздный городок), Moscow Oblast, Russia (In the Zvyozdny Gorodok Urban Okrug of the Moscow Oblast, it's surrounded by a forest). A cosmonaut training facility northeast of Moscow. This town's location was kept secret until the 1990s, even though the media often talked about it. There's a statue of Yuri Gagarin in town. About 70% of its population of 6,000 have jobs relating to space. There are two parts to the city: the residential area and the Yuri Gagarin Training Center. The world's first and largest centrifuge is here, which can produce up to 20 times Earth's gravity. There's also an airport for parabolic "vomit comet" flights. The Hydro Lab uses advanced technology to simulate a weightless environment with a big tank of water. Finally, there are many simulators used to train various skills.
- 16 Tanegashima Space Center (種子島宇宙センター), Tanegashima, Japan (In the south of Tanegashima, you will see a sign to the center when driving on the Tanegashima main road), ☏ (launch site), (space museum), fax: (space museum). 9AM-5:30PM Jul-Aug, 9AM-5PM on other days; closed on launch days, Dec 29 to Jan 1, and Mo-Tu after a long weekend (space museum). Japan's main launch site. The Space Museum has free exhibits, and tours of the launch site are also free. There are crowded public viewpoints for launch days, but you can watch rocket launches from anywhere outside 3 km (1.9 mi) from the launch site. There's a model of Kibō, a Japanese science module for the ISS, that you can go in, and the Rocket Launch Theater in the Space Museum. Free (space museum).
- 17 Vostochny Cosmodrome (Космодром Восточный, "Eastern Spaceport"), near Zilokovskiy, Amur Oblast, Russia. Operational since 2016, the Vostochny Cosmodrome was built to reduce Russian dependency on the Baikonur site in Kazakhastan, since after the Soviet Union dissolved the Baikonur Cosmodrome was in a different country. 15 km off the Trans-Siberian Railway, launches are certainly within viewing distance to train passengers, provided the train passes in the right moment. It has not opened to tourists yet.
- Black sky: by 25 km (16 mi) altitude (well short of reaching space), all blue has drained from the sky, you're far above the weather systems, and you can see the curvature of Earth's surface. The stars become fixed points of light instead of twinkling: you'll see a rich field of them as you orbit the night side of Earth, but on the day side the glare of "earthshine" blanks out almost everything else. In Low Earth Orbit, sunrise and sunset flash by every 45 min; there's a brief red glow, but not the prolonged colors you see from the surface.
- The Earth is a remarkable sight, with its whorls of weather systems, blue oceans, "phases" as you pass from day to its night side, and glowing nighttime cities. If you orbit the moon, as you pass around its far side you lose radio contact as well as sight of Earth, and suddenly feel very much alone in the universe. Then you come around the corner and with relief see earthrise. You don't see this from the lunar surface without moving, as the Earth holds a nearly fixed position in the lunar sky.
- The Northern and Southern Lights form at the edge of space, at an altitude of a few hundred kilometers, so from orbit they're seen far below you flickering across the Earth's night surface.
|“||Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever.||”|
—Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky, 1911
- Space camp. NASA runs space camps at various locations in the US for children and teenagers with an interest in astronomy.
- Stay healthy, physically and mentally. This is essential for your acceptance onto a flight, your wellbeing up there, and your re-adjustment to gravity and everyday society on return. With a well-controlled medical condition such as asthma or diabetes, or with advancing age, it is nowadays possible to undertake adventurous travel on earth. That's not yet possible for space but may become so in the years ahead.
- Be skeptical of commercial "astronaut training camps" that spring up from time to time. They're like screen-writing courses in Hollywood, they make their money from hundreds of wannabes while doing nothing to foster genuine talent. Only go on the basis that they won't get you closer to space but still look value-for-money as an experience. Be even more skeptical of "investment opportunities" and discount ticket sales on some unbuilt space vehicle, which might as well be powered by unicorns.
- Work: look at the websites of the space agencies to see what they're hiring, and consider what skills might get you into space. (No point getting hired just as a delivery driver unless you're Fry in Futurama.) Think ahead on how that job market might evolve: they'll probably need fewer pilots but more specialists. Solar panel maintenance, water extraction from Martian shale, who knows?
Microgravity and edge of space
Jumping from a high place doesn't replicate microgravity: there's such an immediate onrush of air that your body behaves aerodynamically, albeit similar to a brick. You get slightly closer by jumping from a helicopter, since the air is blasting downwards from the rotor, and there's 2-3 seconds of "weightless" goofery before the usual airflow resumes. You get considerably closer by jumping from very high altitude into very thin air, so it might be most of a minute before you approach terminal velocity and lose the weightless sensation. Two 21st-century balloon jumps were from around 40 km altitude. This of course means expensive, complicated, bespoke systems to get you up there and keep you alive. You need to wear a spacesuit, and Orbital Outfitters was one company designing suits for such use, but they went bust in 2017.
The weightlessness experienced in orbit can be created by a parabolic aircraft flight, which alternates low g-forces for about 30 seconds at the top of its arcs with high g-forces at the bottom. These parabolic flights are notoriously nausea-inducing, leading to the nickname Vomit Comet, but commercial operators claim that their shorter flights (15 parabolas) are considerably gentler than research and training flights which involve 40-80.
- 1 Incredible Adventures, 1903 Northgate Blvd, Sarasota, Florida, USA (Go onto Northgate Blvd from US-301 (a.k.a Washington Blvd) and it's just a few houses until you're there), ☏ , toll-free: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. This company provides zero-g flights either from Moscow or from Florida. You can customize when do you want to fly in the Florida flights. In the Florida flights, your plane will go from Martian gravity (1/3 Earth gravity) to Lunar gravity (1/6 Earth gravity) and finally to zero-g; and the flight will make 10-12 maneuvers, with each maneuver lasting 10 seconds. In the Moscow flights, the flight will last for 1.5 to 2 hours but you'll only get to float for 5 minutes. The plane will depart from the Chkalovsky Airfield for Moscow and St Pete-Clearwater International Airport for Florida. Children under 18 years old are not allowed to go on either flight. $3,000 for Florida, unknown for Moscow (determined by the company).
- Zero Gravity Corporation (ZERO-G), 4601 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 1200, Arlington, Virginia, USA (go west on Fairfax Dr from the Ballston-MU metrorail station), ☏ , toll-free: , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Offers flights from Las Vegas (Nevada), San Francisco (California), Orlando, Miami and Cape Canaveral (all Florida) on a modified Boeing 727 named "G-FORCE ONE" with a large compartment suitable for weightless tumbling. 15 parabolas will be flown, with several brief simulations of freefall, lunar gravity (1/6 Terran), and Martian gravity (1/3 Terran). There's about 8 minutes of freefall. After the flight ends, there will be a Regravitation Ceremony and you'll be handed out certificates and pre-flight photos. US$5,400 for 1 seat, US$55,000 for 12 seats, US$165,000 for private flight.
- 2 Space Affairs, Bismarckstraße 72, 28203 Bremen, Germany (Go to the Dobbenweg bus station of Line 25 and then go east through Bismarckstraße), ☏ , , toll-free: , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Flights on Russian MiG-31 Foxhounds have ended, but flights on balloons named "BLOON" have not started yet, and commercial BLOON flights are expected to start in 2020. However, you can already book a flight as of August 2019. BLOON is a very safe and steady balloon and can ascend up to 36 km (22 mi). On the day before your flight, you will head over to southern Spain, where the BLOON launch site is located. That night, there will be some easy training and stargazing using telescopes. The next day, you must get up early for the flight, and the BLOON will ascend to about 36 km. See the curvature of the Earth! After 2 hours, the BLOON will descend, and you'll soon be back on Earth. €110,000 per flight.
- 3 MiGFlug, Grüngasse 19, CH-8004 Zurich, Switzerland (First go to the Bezirksgebäude station of tram lines 2, 3 and 19 and bus line N14, and then go through Wyssgasse until you're at the end), ☏ , , toll-free: , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. As of June 2020, this program is unavailable, but you can contact MiGFlug for them to put you on the waiting list. Offering supersonic flights with a Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum jet up to 22 km (14 mi), departing from Russia. The MiG-29 Fulcrum is not guaranteed to go that high, but 17 km (11 mi) up is guaranteed. The MiG-29 Fulcrum will be climbing up in a ballistic path at nearly Mach 2. The flight package also includes transportation between your hotel and the airbase, a medical checkup before the flight, flight training, flight certificate with max altitude, a visit to the airbase museum, and an optional HD video and photo service of you at the edge of space. Edge of space jet flight for 50 minutes: from €17,500/person.
This means flying higher than 100 km but not fast enough to achieve orbit, so you follow a ballistic curve like an ICBM. While no operators are offering sub-orbital flight, the privately funded and built SpaceShipOne in 2004 demonstrated that this is a possible market.
- Take pictures. You might not need to bring a camera if the spaceship's CCTV and external imaging is comprehensive.
- Virgin Galactic. Founded by who else but Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic is selling tickets for sub-orbital flights on SpaceShipTwo for US$250,000 a seat. Flights will go up to about 50,000 ft (15,000 m) and reach speeds of Mach 3, but while total flight time is 2.5 hours, weightlessness will only last for about 6 minutes. The company has placed an order for five second-generation spaceships from Scaled Composites, the builders of SpaceShipOne. Initial flights will take place from Mojave, California (US), but later flights will move to Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (US) and Kiruna, Sweden. Departures will first be weekly, and eventually climbing to once or twice daily. Three-day training will be available on site. A successful test flight was performed on 5 April 2018. US$250,000 per seat.
- Boeing. Boeing announced the CST-100, a sub-orbital plane capable of suborbital flight and 7-passengers capacity in "competitive prices".
This is the real deal. No one's going to accept that you were "in space" until you've gone into orbit. The minimum practical height for this is 350 km; otherwise, atmospheric drag will retard you and force you down. The 350-2,000 km region is known as Low Earth Orbit, and most artificial satellites are found in this range, including Russian Soyuz vessels, Chinese Shenzhou craft, and the ISS. For instance, the ISS at 400 km is near the bottom of this range, so its orbit continually decays, and it needs altitude-boosting every few years to stay up there. The price tag for a trip to this region starts at around US$40 million.
- Space Adventures, 8000 Towers Crescent Drive, Suite 1000, Vienna, Virginia, USA, toll-free: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Space Adventures has organized orbital flights to the International Space Station (ISS), the only fully functioning space station in orbit. Around US$35 million per person will buy you basic training and a launch on a Soyuz vessel from the Russian Cosmodrome at Baikonur to the ISS. Participants must also fulfill certain physical fitness requirements to ensure their and the mission's safety. The ISS was launched in 1998 and has a Russian half and an American half. It orbits the Earth once every 90 minutes, and 16 sunrises and sunsets can be seen from it every 24 hours. The ISS consists of 14 main modules including 4 labs, a utility hub, an airlock, and a life support module.
- Extravehicular activity (EVA), better known as space-walking, means exiting the spacecraft to float around in space. It's only realistic in orbit and beyond, as a suborbital flight is too brief. Space Adventures offer EVA, but there have been no takers yet: it costs US$20 million extra, requires an extra month of training, and has additional fitness qualifications.
- Do science since you're up there anyway — plan this with the organizers in advance, and assume it must involve zero extra weight. Tourists on scientific missions may be able to contribute, at the very least by being the subject of medical observations.
- Private firm SpaceX transports astronauts to the International Space Station, and Boeing plans to as well. Russia's Soyuz spacecraft had exclusively filled this gap since the 2011 end of the U.S. Space Shuttle program until 2020 when a SpaceX rocket with astronaut passengers bound for the ISS launched from Cape Canaveral. NASA plans to allow tourists to stay on the ISS, charging $35,000 per night. The expensive part will be getting there: round-trip fare to the ISS by Boeing or SpaceX is estimated at $60 million.
- China is testing out the technology for space stations and is planning to launch a complete modular space station like the ISS by 2022.
Leaving the endless loop around Earth to journey elsewhere in the Solar System and beyond. Nobody has gone that far since the Apollo 17 flew the last lunar mission in 1972, nearly fifty years ago. There are no government-backed projects to return people to the Moon or to reach Mars, though work continues on the massive challenges such as self-sufficient habitats. Commercial or private proposals are wildly speculative.
- SpaceX is planning a tourist flight around the Moon for Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who wants to invite a group of artists to come with him. The trip is planned for 2023, but the company has a history of making ambitious plans and then delaying or canceling them.
Although space food has come a long way in terms of appeal and variety, the quality and flavor are still not up to standards of most connoisseurs of fine cuisine. Your transportation provider may offer some choice in the foods available, but you will be limited by their willingness to indulge you.
The freeze-dried "astronaut ice cream" sometimes sold on Earth as a novelty item is a misnomer; it has never actually been served on any manned space mission, and the texture is as off-putting to astronauts as it is to everyone else. However, real ice cream has occasionally been eaten in space by astronauts aboard Skylab, the Space Shuttle, and the International Space Station (usually when frozen components for scientific experiments are being sent up and there's some space remaining).
Real space food has to be carefully tested to make sure it's nutritionally balanced, can be stored for months without refrigeration, and is suitable for a zero-gravity environment. Food that would leave crumbs, for example, is problematic. The menu on the ISS generally consists of American and Russian staples along with other meals and international cuisines that have been requested and developed. Food packaged in Russian cans is generally the best quality-wise but is also the heaviest, so only a limited number of these are allowed. Most food is in plastic pouches; some of these are ready-to-eat after optionally being reheated (a variety of main and side dishes, as well as snacks like granola bars and candies) while many others are dehydrated and must be reconstituted with water (such as borscht, spaghetti with meat sauce, or cereal with powdered milk). Fresh foods like fruit are a treat sent on resupply missions; they must be eaten within two days before they spoil. While most plants grown in space have been for research, astronauts have eaten small amounts of several types of leafy greens that they have grown.
As the fixed menu repeats every 16 days on an extended stay, you'll soon grow tired of the monotony. Astronauts get personal containers in which they can select items not on the fixed menu as well as extras of favorites. Besides standard condiments (liquid salt solution, pepper oil, and ordinary fast-food packets of ketchup, mustard, mayo, etc.), astronauts bring extras like hot sauces, pesto, horseradish, and more. You can also try combining foods to make new dishes; one astronaut wrote, "I cannot think of anything that cannot be put on a tortilla, or has not been put on a tortilla."
Unfortunately, even with extensive research and development, astronauts find much food in space to be bland and often don't have much of an appetite. In zero-gravity, fluid in your body distributes evenly instead of being pulled to your feet, resulting in a permanent stuffy head that dulls your sense of smell and taste. Space travelers have typically preferred strongly-flavored and spicy foods; beef jerky is a particular favorite. (Similar but weaker phenomena can be observed with airline food, in that case due to the dry low-pressure atmosphere.) Nevertheless, you must eat to maintain energy and body mass. Among many other rules for eating in space, one is key: once you open a package of food, you must eat all of it. Leftover food will rot and become a biohazard, and there's no way to dispose of it.
Contrary to popular belief, Tang was invented shortly before the U.S. space program, although its popularity soared when NASA used it on Mercury and Gemini missions.
Water tends to be scarce (as it is heavy and must be brought from Earth at great expense), so ISS machinery recycles water aggressively. Scientific wastewater, humidity, and even urine are all recovered and sanitized. Astronauts don't mind the taste of the recycled water, which is actually purer than drinking water on Earth. And as one astronaut points out, the same kind of recycling happens naturally on Earth, too, just over a much longer timescale.
Like space food, space drinks are mainly freeze-dried and packaged in plastic pouches. Coffee, tea, and a variety of fruit drinks are available; they're drunk with a straw, and you have to be careful to always "close" the straw between sips so liquid doesn't get accidentally squirted inside the vehicle.
Since 2015 the ISS has had a machine that can make fresh espresso in addition to other hot drinks. It's used with a special cup that has a narrow spout; surface tension causes water-based liquids to climb the spout, from which you can sip it like you would on Earth. However, in zero-gravity, the crema foam is distributed throughout the espresso instead of floating to the top.
Carbonated beverages aren't allowed because the bubbles don't rise in zero-gravity, leading to very unpleasant "wet burps". Alcohol has been consumed on a few flights in the past (mainly by Russian crews), but are prohibited on the ISS as it would interfere with the environmental systems, not to mention the potential danger for fire or crew impairment.
While sleeping in zero gravity may sound relaxing, the overall experience is mediocre. Maintaining your circadian rhythm is difficult on a craft that experiences a sunrise and sunset every 90 minutes, and schedule disruptions due to mission planning and long workdays create further problems. On the ISS, astronauts each have a cabin about the size of a shower stall. Inside this, they zip themselves into a sleeping bag on the wall. Constant noise from the station is annoying, and astronauts are often cold because of the strong ventilation, which is needed to push away the carbon dioxide they exhale and replace it with oxygen.
- Bigelow Aerospace. They built the first successful prototype of an inflatable space hotel in 2006-2007. In 2016, a prototype was delivered to the ISS on a SpaceX rocket to undergoing testing, but otherwise it will remain unoccupied. A 10–60 day "live and work visit", once available, is expected to cost between $26–37 million.
While more mature technology has made it safer than it was in the 1960s, space remains an inherently dangerous environment to put yourself in. Cosmic radiation, extreme temperatures, micrometeorites, engineering mistakes, high speeds, explosive fuels, space debris, the distance to terra firma, and the lack of atmosphere make any unplanned situation potentially life-threatening. Spacecraft launch testing is extremely expensive, so spacecraft don't and can't have thousands of flight hours. By the standards of aviation, every space flight is a test flight.
Both launch (our only method of getting to space is to sit on a huge fuel-filled container and hope it behaves like a rocket and not a bomb) and reentry (if you hit it in the wrong angle you burn up in or bounce off the atmosphere) have thus far proven to be the biggest dangers during a mission. So far most accidents have been during launch and reentry as well as during training and testing; only three humans have died in space (albeit during preparations for reentry), but there have been several close calls such as Apollo 13 or the very first spacewalk. Some of the technological problems and close calls only became known to the public decades after they happened, so there may still be dangers you won't even know you are facing.
Voyagers should be wary of purchasing space flights on projects that haven't yet begun. Many ventures are highly speculative; PanAm's “First Moon Flights” Club issued over 93,000 waiting list spots between 1968-1971 and predicted launch dates for many subsequent commercial expeditions have slipped just as dramatically. If there are complications with the project or the company goes under, you might lose your money and your plans. Just look at the bold predictions of some private space companies that have already proven to be less permanent than a shooting star.
Astronaut training is physically demanding, so good physical fitness is a good starting point. Similar physical and mental stresses are present in particularly demanding types of military service, piloting fighter aircraft, mountain climbing, Antarctic expeditions, and advanced scuba diving such as cave diving. National astronaut programs often require athlete-like physical fitness and experience from these or comparable tasks. There are no hospitals in space and rescue is difficult or impossible, so people with conditions that might require immediate medical treatment are not qualified for space travel.
Although early astronauts hid the truth to protect their tough-guy image, we now know that about half of all travelers experience space sickness, a condition related to motion sickness with similar symptoms including vomiting and vertigo. Most people adapt within 3 days, and medicinal anti-nausea patches help with the symptoms.
You need to exercise to stay healthy in zero gravity. Even so, you'll still lose both bone and muscle mass. Astronauts on extended stays are required to exercise at least 2.5 hours every single day. While exercise helps diminish the problem somewhat, a long stay will still see you weakened, and several cosmonauts and astronauts had difficulty getting out of their capsule and onto their own feet upon landing.
Another concern is cosmic radiation. While you are exposed to a certain level of background radiation at all times, it gets higher in certain areas on earth and once you leave the protective layers of the atmosphere. This is already notable on a commercial transatlantic flight at 10,000 m, and only gets worse if you go up to the International Space Station (ISS) at 400 km above the Earth's surface. While the ISS still enjoys some limited protection against radiation, once you go well beyond that height, or even to the moon, there are short term and long term risks associated with radiation that only get worse the longer you stay. Particularly dangerous are solar storms that may give you a year's worth of radiation in just a couple of hours. Shielding against radiation is also one of the major problems in ever sending humans to Mars, as all known solutions involve huge amounts of extra weight for the spacecraft or too high a risk to the crew.
Clothes in space actually don't get dirty very quickly, due to a variety of environmental factors. Wearing the same underwear 3-4 days in a row is no big deal! However, there's no practical way to wash clothes in space; astronauts get fresh clothes from resupply missions, and the dirty ones are discarded as trash (which is incinerated by sending it into Earth's atmosphere).
Mental health in space is paramount. You're stuck with a small number of people in very cramped quarters for weeks at a time, or months for permanent crew on the ISS. While short missions may be different, astronauts on the ISS do get weekends and a few holidays off. They have a projector for watching select TV shows and movies (sometimes before they play in theaters), and laptops for surfing the internet and talking to family. They bring their favorite hobbies with them, and the ISS now has an assortment of musical instruments on board.
Although sticking to the traditional rituals and schedules can be difficult, religion has been actively practiced in space, both privately and publicly. Upon seeing Earth from outer space, quite a few visitors to space have experienced a shift in their awareness, dubbed the "overview effect", becoming much more aware of how fragile and isolated life on Earth is compared to the vastness of the universe.
Christians have celebrated Communion in space, including Buzz Aldrin from the surface of the Moon during Apollo 11 (the chalice that was used is on display at his home church in Webster, Texas) and several astronauts on the ISS. Christmas is celebrated every year on the ISS (sometimes more than once, due to differences between the Julian calendar used by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Gregorian calendar) and includes a small artificial Christmas tree, Christmas dinner, and sometimes presents for the crew.
Islam has been practiced in space, and there are guidelines for how to pray in space (which address kneeling, facing Mecca, and washing) as well as how to time prayers and fasts for a 24-hour day when experiencing a sunrise and sunset every 90 minutes (generally based on the point of departure from land). It may be difficult or impossible to verify whether food is halal, in which case one should eat just enough to ward off hunger. There is a fatwa forbidding devout Muslims from participating in missions to Mars, as the risk to life is considered too great.
Judaism has also been practiced in space, and there are similar guidelines for observing Shabbat (also based on the point of departure from land) and orienting oneself while praying. Some adaptations may be needed to affix a mezuzah or wear a prayer shawl. Keeping kosher is possible with appropriate selection of meals, and there is already personal time allocated in schedules which could be used to study the Torah. However, properly observing tzniut (modesty) in mixed-gender crews might be impossible as that would require separate showers and toilets for men and women, which no vessel has (as of 2020). The danger to one's life should also be weighed carefully.
No matter your religion, if in doubt of the rules, check with an appropriate religious authority. If possible, do so several months or years in advance so leaders have enough time to consider the implications and determine the answers.
What goes up must come down—at least for now.
Once you've exhausted the Moon, there are countless opportunities for exploration and discovery down on the surface, in places such as Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America, Australia, Antarctica, and countless islands in between.