Space Tourism's Future Is Bright

Virgin Airlines billionaire Richard Branson created Virgin Galactic, whose SpaceShipTwo will carry passengers on a two-and-a-half-hour flight 62 miles above the Earth. To date, over 330 space tourists have spent $200,000 each for a chance to board SpaceShipTwo for the ride of their lives. Test flights of this craft are scheduled for 2011, and might not be able to fulfill these pioneers’ dream until 2015 or later. But they are obviously willing to wait. Eventually Virgin Galactic, now co-owned by Branson and Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments, will construct a fleet of six commercial spaceships to handle the growing demand for extraterrestrial experiences.

While $200,000 might seem a bit expensive, it pales by comparison to Virginia-based Space Adventures’ projected price of $21 million for some of their voyages. Of course, you get what you pay for. This price gets private citizens a 10-day sojourn on the International Space Station. They simply hop a Russian Soyuz craft which whisks them 200 miles above the Earth to the ISS. In 2001, then 70-year-old business executive Dennis Tito was the first to avail himself of this package. In September 2008 the company helped launch Canadian Guy Laliberté. Those wanting to take a 90-minute spacewalk while visiting the ISS will have to come up with an additional $15 million.

 Space Adventures is offering its customers the possibility of joining a Lunar Mission, whenever one comes available, for $100 million. Since Space Adventure is a private “global” company, they most certainly will not wait for the US to return to the moon to begin their lunar tours.

Whenever China, India, Russia, or even Brazil pitch camp on the lunar surface, the company will surely begin negotiations with these countries to place its cash-rich customers on moon flights as soon as possible.

Virgin Galactic’s well-heeled customers come from more than 60 countries, including the US, Germany, South Africa, Japan, Britain, France. Its twenty customers from the Gulf region might have an extra convenience. The Virgin Galactic deal with Aabar has led some to suggest that Abu Dhabi could become a commercial spaceflight center. Aabar intends to construct “spaceport” facilities in Abu Dhabi and fund a satellite launch.

To get the broad public as excited about space travel as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, space tourist companies plan to extend their services to the larger middle class, not just the super- rich. Space Adventures is encouraging businesses to “Hold your next company outing in zero- gravity “ and “Send a co-worker on an out of this world vacation - to the International Space Station”.

Better yet, these companies might consider persuading the producers of shows such as “American Idol” to reward one of the program’s national winners with a seat on a 2-hour suborbital flights. A globally-televised space flight of one of America’s darlings certainly would refocus the public’s attention on the promise, and the adventure, of the human space endeavor.


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