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.
Driven to prove their superiority during the Cold War, as well as to gain a strategic advantage, the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union began the "Space Race" during the 1960s. In an astonishingly short time period, the U.S. Apollo program landed human beings on the moon and the Soviet Salyut program kept them in orbit for months at a time. Probes began to explore the solar system. Space seemed very close; at one point, tickets to the moon and to as-yet-nonexistent space stations were being sold.
After the Space Race ended, a new sense of reality set in. The wild dreams of the 1960s and 70s died, and humanity turned its attention earthward again. Space travel beyond Earth's orbit became the exclusive domain of mankind's robotic explorers, and high-profile tragedies both reaching and returning from orbit provided sobering reminders of the risks of space travel. By the end of the 20th century, travel into space was still exclusively the domain of governmental organizations.
However, necessity changed the situation with the dawn of the 21st century. 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, and since then a handful have followed in his footsteps, some of them even on more than one flight.
Although physical fitness remains a concern, the main obstacle to reaching space is the depth of your wallet. In increasing order of both cost and distance from the Earth:
Even if you never get to go to space yourself, there are quite a few space-related places on the Earth itself. At these museums and launch sites, you can learn about crewed missions and the robotic probes used as a scientific research tool where cost, distance, lack of sufficiently-advanced technology or extreme conditions make human exploration impractical or impossible. Points which are beyond the reach even of probes are typically only accessible to remote observation from afar, such as by astronomy or radio astronomy.
- 1 U.S. Space and Rocket Center Museum, Huntsville, Alabama, USA. Features a Saturn V rocket that was never launched and also includes numerous exhibits on program that led up to the moon visits. 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. The US Space Camp is also based here and has hosted over 500,000 visitors since its inception in 1982.
- 2 Johnson Space Center, Webster, Texas, USA (near Houston), ☎ . Mission Control for Space Shuttle and International Space Station activities, and an adjacent museum. Rocket park is available for personal tours.
- Mars Desert Research Station. Experience how it would be to live on Mars
- Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Independence Ave at 6th St SW, Washington, DC, ☎ .
Launch sites and labs
- 3 Baikonur Cosmodrome, Baikonur, Kazakhstan. 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.
- Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 4800 Oak Grove Dr, Pasadena, California, ☎ . JPL, the designers of the Mars rover, host events including one guided tour weekly; passport/identification and advance reservations are required.
- 4 Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA (Just to the west of Orsino on Florida State Road 405, between Range Road and East Avenue SW), toll-free: . Daily 9AM-6PM; some holidays -7PM or -8PM. 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. NOTE: this facility may *sometimes* be closed on launch days! Cape Canaveral also includes the Air Force Space and Missile Museum. 1-day adult $50, children (3-11) $40. Discounts and other passes available. Parking $10.
- 5 Guiana Space Centre (Centre Spatial Guyanais), Kourou, French Guiana. The European Space Agency's launch site.
- 6 Mojave Spaceport, Mojave, California, USA. The first FAA-certified Spaceport and the home of Scaled Composites' private spaceflight program.
- 7 European Space Agency's Columbus Control Centre, Weßling (outside Munich), Germany. Is used to control 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.
- Star City, Russia. Cosmonaut training facility northeast of Moscow.
- Tanegashima Space Center (種子島宇宙センター), Tanegashima, Japan. Japan's main launch site. Free exhibits and tours, public viewpoints for launch days.
- Vostochny (Eastern) Cosmodrome, near Zilokovskiy, Amur Oblast, Russia. Functional since 2016, it was built to reduce Russian dependency on the Baikonur site in Kazakhastan. 15 km off the Trans-Siberian Railway, launches are certainly within viewing distance to train passengers, provided the train passes in the right moment.
See astronomy for information on observing space phenomena from the ground.
While not actual Space travel, the weightlessness experienced in orbit can be duplicated (for durations of less than a minute at a time) with a calibrated parabolic aircraft flight, which alternates low g-forces at the heights of its arcs with high g-forces at the bottoms. The 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 lengthy research flights (40–80).
- Incredible Adventures, 1903 Northgate Blvd, Sarasota, Florida, USA, ☎ , toll-free: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Books flights with Zero Gravity Corp and on the Russian Space Agency's similarly equipped Il-76MDK, departing from Moscow.
- Zero Gravity Corporation, 5275 Arville Street, Suite 116, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, toll-free: . Flights from Las Vegas (Nevada) and Cape Canaveral (Florida) on a modified Boeing 727 with a large compartment suitable for weightless tumbling, including several brief simulations of freefall, Lunar gravity (1/6 Terran), and Martian gravity (1/3 Terran). US$3,675/person.
- Space Travellers International, Wallnerstr. 1A-1010 Vienna, Austria, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Offering flights with Russian Ilyushin 76MDK (Training airplane of the Cosmonauts) departing from Moscow and also zero-g flights in the U.S. with Boeing 727-200. Russian zero-g flight with a 4-day program: €5,800.
- MiGFlug, Grüngasse 19, CH-8004 Zurich, Switzerland, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Offering flights with Russian Ilyushin 76MDK (Special training airplane for Cosmonauts) departing from Moscow and also zero-g flights in the U.S. with a Boeing 727-200. Zero-g flight: €3,500/person.
Edge of space
Flights at altitudes of less than 100 km do not qualify as true space flight, but it is possible to see the curvature of the Earth from altitudes as (comparatively) low as 25 km.
- Space Travelers International, Wallnerstr. 1A-1010 Vienna, Austria, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Arranges flights on Russian MiG-31 Foxhound jet flights up to 25,000 meters. Estimated price tag: €21,500 per flight included 4-day program in Russia.
- MiGFlug, Grüngasse 19, CH-8004 Zurich, Switzerland, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Offering supersonic flights with a Russian MiG-31 Foxhound jet up to 25,000 meters, departing from Russia and supersonic flights with a Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum jet up to 23,000 meters, departing from Russia. Also offers supersonic flights with an English Electric Lightning jet up to 23,000 meters, departing from South Africa. Edge of space stratospheric flight: €16,500/person.
Sub-orbital flight is defined as flight at altitudes higher than 100 km but at speeds insufficient to achieve orbit. While there are no operators offering sub-orbital flight, the privately funded and built SpaceShipOne in 2004 demonstrated that this is a possible market and the race is on to commercialize it.
- 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 pop. Flights will go up to 110 km and reach speeds of Mach 3, but while total flight time is 2.5 hours, weightlessness will only last for about six 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.
- Boeing. Boeing announced the CST-100, a sub-orbital plane capable of suborbital flight and 7-passengers capacity in "competitive prices".
All that sub-orbital stuff is pretty nifty, but these days no one's really ready to accept that you were "in space" until you've been in orbit around the Earth. There's no single altitude for this (it depends on your orbital velocity), but due to atmospheric drag it's only practical above 350 km. Commonly known as Low Earth Orbit, it is the exclusive domain of Russian Soyuz vessels, Chinese Shenzhou craft, and the International Space Station. This itinerary, likely the most expensive in the world, is temporarily unavailable at any cost until at least Spring 2019.
- Space Adventures, 8000 Towers Crescent Drive, Suite 1000, Vienna, Virginia, USA, toll-free: , e-mail: email@example.com. Space Adventures has organized orbital flights to the International Space Station (ISS). 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.
- Private firms SpaceX and Boeing were to begin transporting astronauts to the International Space Station in late 2019. Russia's Soyuz spacecraft had exclusively filled this gap since the 2011 end of the US space shuttle program, only to be put temporarily out of operation by a failed launch in October 2018.
Human travel beyond Low Earth Orbit has not been done since the cancellation of the U.S. Apollo program by President Nixon in 1972. The only programs actively working to re-establish this capability are governmental in nature. However, in 2005, Space Adventures announced its intention to work with Russian Spacecraft manufacturer Energia and the Russian Space Agency to offer a roughly one-week two-passenger flight around the Moon (no orbit, no landing) in a booster-equipped Soyuz craft for US$100 million per person, as early as 2010. This depends on a customer making a hefty deposit to get the project running, so don't wait for them to announce a flight date to get your name in.
SpaceX is planning a pilot 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, so it remains to be seen whether they'll stick to the schedule.
Unmanned space craft have traveled around and outside the solar system, like the Voyager probes, but no human has yet travelled to a planet other than Earth. For years there has been talk of sending someone to Mars, but the barriers are formidable – travel time could be anywhere from several months to a couple of years, the environment is cold and inhospitable, the voyager would be subject to an extended period of weightlessness and exposure to radiation, the entire mission must be self-contained and the question of how to bring the astronauts back to Earth at the end of the journey remains unanswered. In the meantime, the robots bring back valuable scientific data which may not yet be obtainable by any other means.
- The sight of the Earth from Space is reputed to be incomparable.
- At altitudes above the thick atmosphere, the stars cease to "twinkle".
- Sunrise and sunset lose much of their multicolored glory, but take on greater intensity and speed at orbital and even suborbital velocities.
- The Northern and Southern Lights can be seen from space.
- Freefall (often inaccurately called "zero gravity") is a phenomenon which, while not unique to Space travel, occurs only momentarily on Earth, such as in thrill rides or high-speed elevators. If you experience freefall and don't do some aerobatics and float around the craft, you've wasted a great deal of money.
- Take pictures – what else are you going to do all day? Don't forget the extra memory cards.
- Tourists traveling on otherwise scientific missions may be expected to contribute to them, participating in medical observations at the least.
- Extravehicular activity (EVA). Perhaps better known as spacewalking, this involves exiting the spacecraft to float around in space. This is now available as an option at Space Adventures, but there have been no takers yet: this costs US$20 million extra, requires an extra month of training and has additional fitness qualifications.
- Space dive. Orbital Outfitters is designing Sub-orbital Space Suit One, a suit to be worn by crew on sub-orbital flights and potentially suitable for "space diving" from 120,000 ft.
Although space food has come a long way in terms of taste and variety in recent decades, the quality and taste is 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.
Contrary to popular belief, Tang was not invented for the US space programme, although NASA did carry it aboard the Apollo missions.
Water tends to be scarce (as it is heavy and must be brought from Earth), so International Space Station machinery recycles water aggressively. Everything from fuel cell water to humidity and waste water is efficiently recovered. According to some reports on the "fluffy newspiece" pages of the internet, astronauts actually prefer the recycled water. Your mileage might vary, but be assured, that chemically and biologically speaking, the recycled water is 100% safe for human consumption.
- 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, the distance to terra firma, and the lack of atmosphere make any unplanned situation potentially life threatening.
Both start (unless they invent the space elevator any time soon, you are basically sitting on a huge bomb of fuel and hope it doesn't explode) 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 danger during a mission. So far only three humans have died in space (as opposed to start and landing), 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.
You need to exercise to stay healthy in zero gravity. Even so, you'll still lose both bone and muscle mass. 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 10,000m and only gets worse if you go up to the International Space Station (ISS) at 200 to 300 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 space craft or too high a risk to the crew.
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, the Middle East, North, Central, and South America, and countless islands in between.