So, what’s your dream vacation destination? If you like to think big, go ahead and look to the moon. Literally. Space tourism is no longer a science-fiction fantasy. In fact, it is all set to become a reality. Hold your breath…
It was 1969 when Armstrong and Aldrin set foot on the moon for the first time. A year before that Pan Am was already taking advance bookings for its first commercial flight to the celestial satellite. You may well laugh at that, but try laughing at Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, a space travel company established in 2004, which has already launched its commercial space liner, The VSS Enterprise. It has completed a successful solo flight, and within a year it should be carrying private citizens on a short out-and-back trip to space for a neat $200,000 per person.
So far the pleasure of traveling to space has largely been restricted to highly trained astronauts or robots. The handful of private citizens who have sampled the experience have dished out $20 – 45 million for their adventure, and that too only after undergoing rigorous training and thorough medical tests.
All this is about to change, however. Stephen Attenborough, the CEO of Virgin Galactic is extremely confident and has chosen not to mince his words. Says he, “Space tourism has definitely arrived. The market is established. The vehicles are flying. It’s not a paper project.” Now you may be wondering what your $200,000 would buy you, were you to book with the company (yes, bookings are on).
Your adventure will start with light preparation for a couple of days, which will include interaction time with the pilots, safety training and medical tests. On the travel day, you will have your seat in the VSS Enterprise, which will be launched to 50,000 feet by its mother ship, before it detaches and rockets up into space at three times the speed of sound. As soon as you tip past the atmosphere, the engines will be turned off and you will experience the weightlessness of space. You will also get to observe the blue beauty of Earth. However, all this will only last a few minutes, before gravity takes effect again and you come speeding back home. The entire trip is over in an hour.
If $200,000 for an hour sounds too steep, take heart from the fact that competition has already emerged, and brought with it a downward pressure on prices. Space Adventures, another space travel company launched back in 2001, will be offering the same trip for $100,000, and the estimate is that by 2020, the price will fall to $50,000 per person.
The real emphasis of Space Adventures is different, though. Rather than just these short space excursions, it also plans to take customers for space trips running into 10 days. However, the price tag for such a space jaunt will be a whopping $30 million.
Wondering if people will be willing to shell out this much money? The answer is a resounding yes. Richard Branson’s company has already generated 80,000 registrations worth $50 million in initial deposits. Besides, a global-investment company based out of Abu Dhabi, Aabar, has already committed $280 million to Virgin Galactic as an investment. All in all, it certainly looks like the space dream is here to stay!