The space exploration community is buzzing with excitement as several private companies draw nearer to sending tourists into space, potentially in the coming year. While the concept of recreational space travel has been around for many years, we finally possess the technology and ability to begin developing these ground-breaking projects. Companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are already announcing their plans for sending tourists into space, spearheading a potentially billion-dollar industry. With these developments on the horizon, 2020 may be the year when space tourism finally becomes a reality.
What is space tourism?
Space tourism allows for non-professional astronauts to travel into space, for an astronomical fee of course. Trips are being developed for lunar and Earth orbits although trips to other destinations in our solar system have also been discussed. While space tourism doesn’t require any professional qualifications, it does still require plenty of physical training. Because traveling to space can be quite demanding, astronauts and crew will be on hand at all times to make sure that tourists have a safe and comfortable journey.
The current big players in this budding industry are Virgin Galactic, owned by Richard Branson; SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk; and Blue Origin, owned by Jeff Bezos. As of right now, the only form of space law exists as the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). This governing body has already formed five international treaties governing the use of space for the benefit of humankind, search and rescue of astronauts and sharing space-related technology to name a few. However, these treaties are only valid amongst the participating countries and many fear that such loose regulations on space travel will result in unforeseen consequences.
When will the first space tourism flights happen?
As a matter of fact, they already have! In 2001 multimillionaire Dennis Tito reportedly paid $20 million to ride a Russian Soyuz rocket for a 10-day stay on the International Space Station. Since then, a few others would replicate that journey, but it hasn’t been made widely available to the general public. However, 2020 may finally be the year when this changes. In fact, Virgin Galactic has already flown two human passengers on a near-space tour, taking them up over 50 miles into the sky to look down upon the globe.
Many in the space tourism industry are expecting 2020 to be the year when private companies like Virgin Galactic begin making the move toward making these space tours more affordable for the masses. Currently, there are over 700 reserved tickets for Virgin Galactic’s space tour, which will take passengers to the edge of space where they will hover and experience the sensation of zero-gravity. Despite the fact that these trips are still yet to be scheduled, more and more passengers are purchasing their reserved seat into space.
For those of you that want to spend more than a few minutes in space and have the savings to spare, NASA recently announced that they plan to send tourists to the International Space Station for stays up to 30 days. Each tour will accommodate four travelers onboard SpaceX’s “Crew Dragon”. But with a price tag of $50 million, it’ll no doubt be the most expensive vacation stay you’ll ever take. With the hopeful success of these tours, SpaceX plans to develop lunar trips by 2023.
Complications with Space Travel
As exciting as these future voyages may be for the public and space exploration community alike, they aren't without their fair share of complications and hurdles to overcome. Without a doubt, safety is one of the greatest deterrents preventing space tourism from taking off. Even with all our advancements in science and technology, space travel is still more dangerous than even extreme sports like base jumping and skydiving. Out of the 113 departures to space 2 of them have failed, a 1.8% chance. To put this in perspective, an individual us 45,000 times more likely to die going to space than flying with a commercial airline. Until new safety technology and standards are implemented, space tourism will come with a significant risk.
Another major hurdle to overcome is ensuring that there is a large enough customer base willing to pay the high price tag that will likely be set. As of right now, with short trips costing around a quarter-million dollars, space tourism will likely be only affordable for a handful of millionaires. Until technology can increase the efficiency of these voyages, we can likely expect that companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX will release pricing similar to that of Virgin Galactic.
After decades of research and development, it’s exciting to think about the fact that during our lifetime, space tourism will eventually become a topic of normal conversation. Although it may be a long time before anyone less than a millionaire can enjoy these experiences, it’s evident that space tourism is just on the horizon.