Space Travel

Back in the 1970s, futurologists predicted that, by the year 2000, we would all be holidaying on the moon and staying in space hotels. Well, we’re not quite there yet but, in 2001, American businessman, Dennis Tito, became the first ‘space tourist’, making space travel no longer beyond the realms of possibility for non-astronauts.

As yet, there are no space hotels to cater for tourists, but there is an International Space Station (ISS), providing a base for the human presence in space that has been continuously in use since 2000. Dennis Tito spent seven days on the ISS, which orbits Earth about 15 times each day at a distance of between 278 and 460 kilometres from Earth’s surface. However, the commercial ‘space race’ to get passenger flights into space is focused on getting space travellers to a distance of 100 kilometres above the Earth’s surface and, to date, about 430 aspiring astronauts have already booked a seat.

British billionaire entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson, is currently leading the ‘space tourism race’ and test flights have already taken place. With the first spaceport now well under construction in New Mexico, USA, Virgin Galactic intends to be fully operational by 2015, offering zero gravity flights to six passengers at a time. If you want to be one of them, all you need is US$200,000—a fraction of the $20 million thought to have been paid by Tito, who also volunteered to pay for anything he broke on the ISS! Booking your ticket into space is as simple as filling in the online form on the Virgin Galactic website and paying an upfront, refundable deposit of US$20,000.

As soon as your deposit is paid, your Galactic experience begins, as you gain access to all aspects of the project including attending Astronaut Forums at Sir Richard’s Caribbean home or on his game reserve in South Africa. You also get the opportunity to tour the site belonging to Scaled Composites, where the spaceships are being developed, and you receive VIP invitations to attend any media events held to celebrate each new milestone the project achieves.

Founder members of the exclusive ‘space club’ have now taken part in a three day flight preparation course developed by aerospace medical experts to make sure that passengers enjoy the very best experience possible in space. The training days focus on essential safety procedures, but also on how to make the most of zero gravity, something that all passengers will have the opportunity to try out for real on their flight, after training in a simulated cabin on the ground.

The physical and mental effects of space travel on non-astronauts are also being tested and monitored, with the results so far looking good. In one experiment involving 81 trainee space travellers aged between 22 and 88 years, 93% of them passed every training requirement successfully.

So what are you waiting for? If you’re looking for the trip of a lifetime, this one is going to be hard to beat. And, just in case you’re wondering whether you can take your camera, your entire space experience will be recorded for you. If you have a photo of yourself with your hands in the air at the top of the world’s highest roller-coaster, how about one of you floating upside-down at 100 kilometres above the world?

 flickr image by Jeff Foust

Date posted: 5th July, 2012

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