The Space Race of the 1950s paved the way for mankind’s landing on the moon. Since then, several missions have been launched exploring the depths of the outer space. Half a century later, a new space race is looming. The mission: to make the space the next tourist destination. And the race to take sightseers beyond the Karman Line has intensified as a host of companies vie for a spot in the space tourism game. Without a doubt, the coming years are going to be an exciting time for the space tourism industry.
A Timeline of Space Tourism
Space tourism rests mainly on the achievements of human space flight. Experts and observers in the field began recognizing the idea that private citizens might be able to travel and go to space in the future with the replication of human space flight.
The developments in the field of space travel continued over the years. By the late 1990s and early 2000, private companies leaning towards space tourism were founded – one of them is Space Adventures. Established in 1998, Space Adventures is a pioneer in the space tourism industry. In fact, Space Adventures partnered with Russian space agency Roscosmos and arranged the very first outer space tour in 2001. At the dawn of the new millennium, multimillionaire Dennis Tito became the first private citizen to take part in the space tourism industry. With a hefty price tag of $20 million aboard the Soyuz TMA-32, Tito spent seven days in the International Space Station.
Soon, six more passengers followed Tito’s lead. The list includes South African computer magnate, Mark Shuttleworth (2002), American sensor hardware millionaire, Greg Olsen (2005), Iranian-American software millionaire, Anousheh Ansari (2006), Hungarian-American software billionaire, Charles Simonyi (2007 and 2009), British-American video-game millionaire, Richard Garriott (2008), and Canadian billionaire artist, Guy Laliberte (2009). In addition, Roscosmos announced a new deal with Space Adventures to send two more tourists to the International Space Station by the year 2021.
Trailblazing Businesses in the Space Tourism Industry
Due to space travel’s astronomical price, it has been a decade since Space Adventures has flown a tourist out into space. We saw a slowdown in the past decade. However, with emerging technologies and decrease in space travel cost, we’ve seen a resurgence of interest in the space tourism industry. Here is a roundup of maverick companies paving the way for space tourism:
- Virgin Galactic has sold more than 700 tickets for suborbital flight aboard Spaceship Two. Virgin Galactic will carry six passengers plus two pilots at a time flying 50 miles above Earth. While Virgin Galactic is racing to be the first private company to take passengers to space by 2020, the company is also the first space travel tourism venture to go public. Investment firm Social Capital Hedosophobia owns 49% of Virgin Galactic. It oversees the completion of the IPO process by the end of the year.
- SpaceX plans to bring tourists to the moon aboard the Starship (formerly known as the Big Falcon Rocket.) The spacecraft has a capacity of up to 100 passengers. It aims to achieve orbital launch by the year 2020 and moon circuit space trip by the year 2023. Recently, SpaceX disclosed that fashion innovator and globally recognized art curator Yusaku Maezawa is the company’s first private passenger. He will be part of the week-long mission to circle the moon in 2023.
- Blue Origin, a company founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, has been taking major steps in building the road to space. The company is currently working on a suborbital spaceflight project, the New Shepard and the orbital spaceflight venture, New Glenn. Both missions are aimed at developing reusable rocket systems that can significantly reduce space travel cost and routinely bring payloads and people to the Earth’s orbit and beyond. Additionally, Blue Origin has made significant investments in the Space Coast in Florida.
- NASA is exploring the possibility of bringing space tourists aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. The move was an attempt to assess the viability of opening the International Space Station to commercial use. The prospect of continuing the upkeep of ISS without Russia’s financial contribution, therefore, prompted NASA’s decision.
- Nevada-based Bigelow Space Operations is quick to jump on NASA’s move to privatize the International Space Station. The company has reserved four seats aboard SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. Bigelow Aerospace owns Bigelow Space Operations. It aims to advance space travel tourism by building inflatable space habitats in low Earth orbit by the year 2021.
- Axiom Space has been deeply involved in the International Space Station program since its inception. The reported dismantling of the project by the year 2024 has prompted Axiom Space to take an active role in the conversion of ISS to commercial use. In fact, Axiom Space’s vision of the space tourism industry is promising and vibrant, the company has tapped Philippe Starck to design Axiom Space Hotel’s interior.
Beyond Space Tourism: A Shift in Perspective
Astronauts coming back from outer space share that seeing our planet from an outsider’s vantage point leaves a profound impression. They call it the overview effect. Looking at the pale blue dot, the truth becomes clear, and conflicts and disagreement become less important. The need to protect the planet, therefore, becomes urgent and important. With the renaissance of space travel tourism, more people will have the opportunity to gaze at our blue planet. Perhaps the more clearly we see Earth as one place. And collectively, we can make better decisions for humanity and for the planet.