So you want to go to space? Well, let’s hope you have deep pockets, as none of the options are cheap. If you do, read on to see what your current and future options are for a holiday experience that is literally “out of this world”.
If you’ve got US$40,000,000 to spare this could be you. You’d also enter the record books as the first ever spacewalking tourist.
Dennis Tito became the first ever space tourist in April 2001, establishing space as a potential vacation destination, if only for those of considerable financial means. The good news is that prices are set to come down considerably over the next few years, and already over 340 would-be astronauts have put a deposit down on an extraplanetary excursion. For the benefit of anyone who thinks they might like to join this elite group of space travellers, we’ve collected all the information you need to get started right here in one place.
Dennis Tito (right) with his crewmates on the Soyuz rocket that took him to space, Talgat Musabayev (left) and Yuri Baturin (center)
The crème de la crème of space tourism is a trip to the International Space Station. Accommodation on board is very limited – private rooms are reserved for the crew, so visitors are forced to crash in the common areas. Plans to install a shower have now been cancelled, and all drinks are prepared with water recycled from the toilet – but it’s the only facility offering overnight accommodation in space on a commercial basis. Most tourists stay for between nine and fifteen days – although the staff remain on board for between four and seven months, so you might be able to negotiate an extended visit.
If you do book a holiday in space, this is where you'll be staying: The International Space Station.
Trips depart Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with the Russian Federal Space Agency. All flights are undertaken in a Soyuz spacecraft, launched on top of a rocket. On the return leg, the Soyuz capsule drifts down on a parachute, arriving back to earth in the Kazakhstani desert. Key highlights of the trip are being completely weightless for the duration of your stay, and circumnavigating the earth every 91 minutes, offering an unparalleled view of every part of the earth’s surface. Trips cost around US$20-35 million (around £12-22 million), and can be booked through Space Adventures. A space walk outside of the space station is available as an extra for around US$20 million, but no tourist has yet selected this option – giving you the opportunity to enter the record books as the Earth’s first recreational spacewalker.
The accommodation on-board the International Space Station isn’t exactly luxurious, but it’s the only place where you can experience weightlessness for more than a few seconds at a time.
Virgin Galactic, the world’s first private spaceline is scheduled to begin commercial flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico, beginning sometime during 2011. Tickets are priced at a much more reasonable $200,000, making space accessible to millions worldwide for the first time ever. Virgin’s VSS Enterprise spacecraft will be given a lift up to around 16km by a carrier plane, and will then continue on its own under rocket power, reaching three times the speed of sound, and a height of 110km. The catch is that the flights last only for two and a half hours, and don’t even enter orbit. Weightlessness will be achieved, but only for around six minutes. If the trip appeals, tickets can be booked directly with Virgin Galactic, or through one of their accredited space agents.
Here we see Spaceship One, the prototype on which Virgin’s spacecraft are based, being helped on the first part of its journey by a purpose-built carrier plane. Once it has reached a high enough altitude, the carrier plane releases Spaceship One (the blue-nosed craft carried underneath), which then completes its trip into space under the power of its own rocket motor.
On its return journey, Spaceship One glides back to Earth without using any power, as will Virgin’s Enterprise spacecraft. The main difference between Spaceship One and Enterprise is that Enterprise is twice as big, and can carry eight people rather than three.
The only two other organizations currently providing flights into space are NASA, via the Space Shuttle, and CNSA (China National Space Administration) in Shenzhou spacecraft. Unfortunately neither of these organisations sell tickets on a commercial basis, so they remain unavailable to would-be space tourists.
Some people claim that space can be reached on board a United States Air Force U2 spy plane or a Russian MIG-29 fighter jet, both of which can reach altitudes of over 20km, about twice as high as a regular airliner. At this height, the sky above turns black, the curvature of the Earth is clearly visible, and the atmosphere appears as a thin blue line along the horizon – so you certainly get the impression of looking down on our planet from outer space. On the U2 you even need to wear a spacesuit inside the plane and breathe pure oxygen through a mask, but neither plane can fly fast enough to attain weightlessness. If we’re being honest, flying high in an aeroplane doesn’t really count as actually having been to space, but if you want to give it a go, tickets to fly to ‘the edge of space’ on a MIG-29 can be booked via Space Travellers. Trips on the U2 are not sold commercially, so you won’t be able to book this option unless you’re able to negotiate a special one-off deal.
If you just want a photo of the Earth from a very high altitude, you can attach a camera to a balloon. This photograph was taken from 30km above the Rocky Mountains by a camera attached to a weather balloon. The view is very similar to that from a U2 or a MIG-29.
NASA operated a regular service to the Moon between July 1969 and December 1972. All flights departed John F. Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on a Saturn V rocket, and took four and a half days to reach the Moon. Transfer from orbit around the Moon to the surface was achieved via an Apollo Lunar Module, taking only around fifteen minutes. Initially there was no transport available after arrival at the destination, so visitors were forced to explore on foot, but moon buggies were carried on later flights, allowing excursions to be made further afield. Since NASA ceased this service, no other passenger vehicles have serviced the Moon, or any planet. This means that it is not at present possible to visit any other heavenly body unless you have the resources to fund your own independent space programme. India, Japan, China, Russia and the European Space Agency all currently have plans for flights to the Moon, but none are scheduled to begin operations before 2020.
It’s now almost 40 years since anyone walked on the surface of the Moon – so holidays on the moon seem to be as far off as ever.
Here we see the Eagle, the first Appollo lander, approaching the command module in which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin travelled back to Earth after making history as the first men to set foot on the Moon. In the backgroud we can see the Earth low in the sky, partly in darkness due to the shadow of the Moon.
The Moon's biggest shortcoming as a destination may be the grey drabness of the scenery – only the moon buggy in the foreground gives away that this isn’t a black and white photo. Mars certainly wins out in the attractiveness stakes, but visitors would have to endure a flight lasting several months to get there.
Worried about your weight? If it’s weightlessness rather than taking a break from planet Earth that really stokes your fire, you might be better off opting for a parabolic flight. By flying upwards at high speed, and then levelling off and beginning a rapid downwards descent, it’s possible to create weightlessness inside a plane. (Actually you’re falling downwards towards earth rather than being truly weightless, but as the plane and everything in it is heading down at exactly the same speed, you won’t notice the difference.) While each period of weightlessness has to come to an end after about 30 seconds (otherwise you’d crash straight into the ground), on most parabolic flights the zero-gravity manoeuvre is repeated around 15 times, meaning that you get more weightlessness than on a Virgin Galactic flight for a lot less money. Tickets are available for around US$5,000 – no more than a long-haul business class flight, but be warned that American astronauts nicknamed these flights ‘The Vomit Comet’ – so be prepared for other people’s stomach contents to be floating around the plane. Tickets can be booked with Zero G for flights in the USA, with Space Travellers or Incredible Adventures for flights in either the USA or Russia, or with Mig Flug for flights in Russia.
Physicist Stephen Hawking taking a parabolic flight with Zero G in 2007
Don't forget to send a postcard, or your friends back on Earth will never forgive you.
If this guide has left you wanting to learn more, check out one of these books:
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