How to Visit Space as a Tourist: The Space Age of Adventure
For decades, space travel was reserved for professional astronauts. Although the vast majority of humans in space have been salaried employees, the future of space travel may look completely different.
Space tourism is one of the fastest-growing parts of the space industry; according to Pew Research, about 42% of Americans say they would “definitely or probably be interested” in orbiting Earth in a spacecraft.
That’s roughly four out of every ten Americans today, or about 133 million people– about 15 New York Cities worth of humans looking to explore the Final Frontier.
We anticipate that figure increasing as more people check “going to space” off the bucket list and come home with stories to tell.
Younger generations are also more likely to want to travel to space– 63% of Millennials (1981-1996) fall into the interested category, whereas Gen Xers (1965 to 1980) lag slightly behind the average at 39%, and Baby Boomer or older generations are at 27%.
The following guide explores how to visit space as a tourist today, and what new space adventure options we can expect in the future.
What You Should Know Before Going to Space
Before we get started on the best ways to visit space as a tourist, let’s address a current debate– where does space actually begin?
Once you pass through the thickest parts of Earth’s atmosphere, there isn’t exactly a “Welcome to Space” sign.
Countries tend to differ on the arbitrary mark acknowledging space, but it’s typically pinned between 50 miles above ground to over 600 miles above the ground. The International Space Station, for example, orbits at around 200 miles above the ground.
Today’s options for space tourists focus on the points of space nearest Earth– while they might not meet the minimum criteria of 50 miles above ground, they capture much of the experience of being in space without the preparation and costs of going deeper.
Let’s explore three popular means of getting to space, or close enough to count.
Balloon Capsule Flights
The only way to get up to the deeper layers of outer space is through a rocket, which is a drastically different endeavor than gearing up to explore the closer layers.
Balloon capsule flights make the layers closer to Earth accessible with comparatively less intensive preparation.
If you’re imagining futuristic hot air balloons, you’re not too far off.
Balloon capsules sound like they’re straight from a sci-fi novel, and many of them are currently in the “waitlist” phases of launching.
The balloon gradually lifts the capsule up to around 100,000 feet, above the thickest parts of the atmosphere– enough to see a breathtaking wide-angle panoramic view of Earth’s surface, viewing Earth’s curvature for over a thousand miles in every direction. Looking up, you’ll see the dark infinity of space, covered with distant star clusters and galaxies.
Space Perspective and Worldview are two providers of balloon capsule space flights for space tourists.
Balloon capsule flights run about $50,000 to $125,000 per seat.
Perhaps the most notable of the space-tech companies, Elon Musk’s SpaceX sits at the top of the list of rocket-propelled space tourism flights.
SpaceX is also credited with the emergence of commercialized space flight, as its consistent aerospace and rocketry iteration and reinventions have significantly lowered the cost of going to and from space. SpaceX has numerous achievements, such as being the first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover its spacecraft.
Although the company’s primary revenue is from commercial and government contracts, it may soon be a staple in the space tourism industry.
In 2017, SpaceX announced it was contracted by two individual space tourists who wanted to go on a trip around the moon– a trip that has been postponed until at least 2023.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo is a singed space shuttle getting as high as 53.5 miles above Earth’s surface. Tickets cost around $150,000. Virgin owner Richard Branson took the flight in mid-2021.
Blue Origin, owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, uses conventional rocket technology with reusable components. The experience consists of a few days of training in Texas for an 11-minute flight up to 62 miles, enabling people to experience zero gravity and some killer views. There isn’t a set price (nor launch dates) for Blue Shepherd’s inaugural flight, but the first seat was auctioned off for $28 million.
Zero Gravity Flights
The feeling of floating and bouncing around without gravity captures much of the imagination-share of what people want to experience if they ever go to space.
When Travel and Leisure interviewed two NASA veterans, Dr. Leroy Chiao and Dr. Scott Parazynski, on what people should know before going to space, they recommended taking a zero-gravity flight prior to going into broader space on a suborbital flight.
Commercial companies like Zero-G allow people to experience a zero-gravity environment similar to suborbital flight.
Zero gravity flights are physically similar to skydiving or roller coaster drops; rather than feeling like you’re on the receiving end of an intense gravity pull (in less scientific terms, “falling”), you’ll be floating inside the airplane– similar to how a spacecraft feels when in space with the engines cut off.
In the above interview, Dr. Parazynski notes, “if they have the means, they should get on a zero-G flight before they go on a suborbital flight. It would take some of the mystery out of ‘what am I going to feel like?’ and ‘how do I move?”
Alternatively, one could aim to get the same feeling by being at a point of neutral buoyancy while scuba diving near the ocean floor or pool; but be sure to have adequate professional experience and supervision– the ocean poses threats a contained zero-gravity environment does not.
Final Thoughts: What’s Next for Space Tourism?
As Stephen Hawking once said, “Taking more and more passengers out into space will enable them, and us, to look both outward and back but with a fresh perspective in both directions.”
Companies like Zero-G are bringing space within reach today, the experiences of which can help build a more substantial base for future space endeavors. Just the weightless feeling of zero gravity is something so unique that it sends people home with stories for a lifetime.
We’re looking forward to what the future of space tourism holds. While man’s first steps on the moon were done on the clock and filmed with bulky grainy cameras, the next sets of bootprints on the moon may be recreational and streamed on Instagram Live.