You can now fulfil your childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut, thanks to the rise of space tourism. Between looking into the void of the space, seeing multiple sunrises in a day while floating in the weightlessness, you can literally have an out-of-the-world experience. Space tourism is currently being offered by a few private companies and, at present, is crazy expensive. However, if you want to go out there and be in space, here is all that you will need to know.
A couple of organizations, such as Commercial Spaceflight Federation and Citizens in Space project are offering these tours to space. It is almost like regular tourism: travel for recreational and leisure purposes. However, space tourism is for non-astronauts and is generally called “personal spaceflight” or “citizen space exploration”.
However, when you are going to space, the first question arises – where in space? For tourists, the first space travel begins at the Karman line. This is the altitude of 62 miles or 100 kilometres above the surface of the earth. The earth’s atmosphere slowly fades into the void of space. However, this is the theoretically accepted line between the earth’s atmosphere and space.
The altitude that the spacecraft can reach depends upon the speed which it can reach. For suborbital flights, a lower speed is needed. To go into orbit, a spacecraft much reach the speed of 7.7 kilometres per second. This is a massive speed that allows satellites to be in orbit and not fall back in the earth. For space tours that will have a duration of a couple of days or more, the spacecraft will take an orbital flight.
For a suborbital flight, the spacecraft just needs to have enough energy to go to the suborbital altitude and then fall back to earth. In the process, it makes a really huge arc. For orbital flights, the spacecraft must attain the escape velocity which is near 11 kilometres per second. Most space tours, till date, were suborbital. The passengers could experience microgravity and have a grandiose view for about six minutes.
Lunar tourism also has been planned, but none were executed. Besides being extremely expensive, moon tourism also needs the tourists to be physically fit enough for the travel. Travelling through the voids of space is quite risky and so is the return trip home. However, orbital flights for tourists took place before too. From 2001 to 2009, Russia sent some of its wealthy businessmen to trip abroad the Soyuz capsule. The USA also has a history of sending non-astronaut staff abroad the space station. However, with more and more potential tourists agreeing to pay for space travel, the space tourism was stopped.
Space tourism, since then, has changed a lot and has become more tourist friendly. It is still a lot different from any other tours on the planet. There are now three big private companies willing to send people out into space. These include Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic; SpaceX, founded by Tesla co-founder Elon Musk; and Blue Origin, created by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. These companies are presently working on space tourism besides delivering satellites in space.
Moreover, according to SpaceX, the company will also send two people to the moon by late 2018. The couple was not named by the company, but lunar tourism is a thing that it is already happening.
The cost for space tourism is in the degree of millions of dollars. Virgin Galactic already has put up a price tag for their space travel. Up front, you need to pay US$250,000. However, this is just for the reservations. However, to actually complete the formalities and go to space, you can expect a two to three-fold increase in cost. It is expected, the over time, as technologies improve, cost of space tourism will reduce. However, it will be quite a while till space tourism even becomes viable for the masses.
Development of space tourism vehicles in an ongoing project. Virgin Galactic already has a spaceplane that can take 8 people into orbit. SpaceX has the Dragon V2 vehicle that is launched by the reusable Falcon Heavy rocket. Blue Origin’s New Shepard looks more like a regular rocket that takes off and lands vertically. Also, Shepard also has the largest windows, so that is a great selling point.
For going to space, you need to go through previous training. You will experience nausea and seasickness, dizziness, headache, disorientation, puffy face, and bloodshot eyes when travelling to space. Also, safety is a major concern with the probability of a crash, exposure to cosmic radiation, and other unknown dangers. Also, in the orbit, food will be limited to only pre-packaged meals.
With eco-tourism gaining traction over the past decade, space tourism may not become a viable industry. As of now, the black carbon released into the stratosphere after suborbital launches are quite minimal and have a negligible impact on global warming. However, if the trend of space tourism accelerates, then it won’t be very good for the earth.