Vacationing in Outer Space
Reservations Now Being Taken
The age of space tourism is rapidly approaching. What was once reserved for a select group of Astronauts, and, recently, very wealthy millionaires, will soon be coming within reach of the common man.
The current $200,000 per ticket will initially limit this to the upper, upper middle class and above. But with the average new home costing close to $200,000, the dream of a trip into space could become an affordable reality for a growing portion of the population within the next decade or sooner.
And, $200,000 per person is cheap compared to the current $450 million it costs NASA on average for a space shuttle mission which, with a crew of five, works out to $90 million per astronaut.
Virgin Galactic, a part of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin group, is the company preparing to offer space flights for tourists. The company is currently building a space port in New Mexico and has arranged with NASA to use their facilities in California until the New Mexico site is ready.
The company's proto-type ship, the SS1, has already made test flights into space and the first of the larger, passenger carrying SS2 along with its mother ship the WhiteKnightTwo are expected to roll off the assembly line in the next couple of months.
Current plans call for test flights of the craft to be conducted in 2008 with the first commercial flights starting in 2009. People are already making reservations at the Virgin Galactic website. In addition to information about the company you can also register to be put on their mailing list to be kept informed of latest developments or, by making a refundable 10% deposit ($20,000), reserve a seat on a flight in 2009.
Among those already scheduled to fly on the first few
flights are Sir Richard and his family, an unnamed member of the
British Royal Family and others active in the space industry.
Simulation of Virgin Galactic's SS2 Passenger Space Craft
Less Than 500 Astronauts have Visited Space since First Flight in 1961
Unlike NASA rockets, the Virgin Galactic spaceship is a special plane capable of carrying a pilot, co-pilot and six passengers. Being a sub-orbital flight, the total duration of the flight will be about 15 minutes with about 5 of those drifting weightless in space. This is about the same amount of time as America's first manned space flight on May 5, 1961 in which Astronaut Alan B. Sheppard's FREEDOM 7 Mercury space capsule spent 15 minutes and 22 seconds on its sub-orbital flight.
Unlike current astronauts who are blasted into space atop huge rockets and, prior to the space shuttle, ended up having to be plucked out of the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean following re-entry, the Virgin Galactic space ships are an airplane-like craft. Like America's X-15 aircraft (in which men like Chuck Yager, Scott Crossfield and Major Robert White piloted themselves into near space and earned their Astronaut wings), the Virgin Galactic's SS2 will be fitted under the belly of the WhiteKnightTwo jet aircraft and carried to the edge of space where it will be released. Once away from the mother ship the pilot will ignite the SS2's rocket engines which will immediately propel the craft into sub-orbital position in 15 seconds. During the 15 second rocket flight the crew and passengers will experience the pressure of 3Gs (a force three times normal gravity) after which the engines will shut down and the craft will glide through space with its passengers and crew being weightless for the next five minutes. Following this brief five minute tour of near space the craft will fly back to the space port where it will land like any normal aircraft.
In the 45 years since Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, just under 500 men and women have followed him and traveled into outer space. In contrast, Virgin Galactic is projecting flying five hundred or more travelers into space during its first year of space tourist business in 2009. At that rate, and with competitors already drawing up plans to join them in the space tourism business, it should not be too long before prices of space tours begin to fall drastically.
My only question is whether or not we will be able to exchange airline frequent flyer points for space flight tickets and, if so, how many will it take to purchase a 15 minute space flight?