For anyone looking for the future of travel then there only really seems to be one ultimate destination. It is the only place that is left unexplored once you’ve covered the Earth. Outer Space is the last unexplored territory and is really the most unknown factor for tourism and travel. We’re still a long way from going on a summer holiday to the Moon or spending a gap year on Mars but the reality of commercial space travel is here and is set to grow over the next decade into a very real industry. Companies such as Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are looking to offer people the chance to experience weightlessness and views of Earth from above for a affordable price. Of course affordable is a relative term when it comes to space travel, it is still decades off being a realistic option for anyone other than the super-rich.
The term space tourism is itself a contested one, many of the original private astronauts reject the term, saying that they were carrying out scientific research and that they were not just there for the ride. This is true with the first few people flying with private funding not being tourists in the traditional sense. People such as Dennis Tito and Helen Sharman had scientific agenda to ahere to despite not being from a more traditional NASA background. These pioneers mostly preferred the term of spaceflight participant. Despite not being tourists as we imagine they did break an important boundry that has allowed and will allow more people to visit space with their own finances.
The biggest barrier for anyone wishing to travel into space is the cost. Dennis Tito was reported as having spent $20 million to fly into space, but later the figure is put at closer to $12 million. However Virgin Galactic are offering seats on their SpaceShipTwo craft for much cheaper. Seats can be booked with a deposit of $20,000, with prices set to drop as more people book their flights.
Virgin are looking to be the leaders of commercial spaceflight, with the firm belief that Man’s future lies outside our own planet. It may well be the case that as the century wears on that it will be possible to take a holiday to the Moon. There can be no more breathtaking sight than the Earth from space, and it would definitely give you some good opportunities for memorable holiday photos. It is an expensive holiday, but as a travel option for the rich among us I think it remains an unbeatable choice.
Scaled Composites is currently building Virgin’s first passenger craft, SpaceShipTwo and its mothership WhiteKnightTwo. Test launches are planned after construction is finished in 2008, with the first passenger flights in 2009. SpaceShipTwo will take two pilots and six passengers on each flight, lasting for around two and a half hours. The flight is sub-orbital and so doesn’t reach the distances or speeds achieved by the Space Shuttle. Desipte barely clearing the atmosphere the ship will give the passengers moments of weightlessness and awe-inspiring views of the planet. The craft will fly attached to the mothership until 50,000 feet at which point it will detach and fire up and out of the atmosphere. Virgin’s efforts are commendable for trying to break spaceflight into the commercial sector and bring it closer to normal people.
A holiday in space is still a long way off, with projected flights lasting just a few hours. I do believe that it remains a distinctive possibility for the future, and certainly within our lifetimes. It’s a little expensive right now, but with research well underway into alternative methods of breaking free of the atmosphere such as space elevators it seems like only a matter of time. What better place to get away from it all than the silence of Mars?