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Your options as they stand today, and what they might look like tomorrow.

YOU’VE BEEN TO remote jungle villages in Papua New Guinea, the desert expanses of the Sahara, even the frozen wasteland of Antarctica. Next, the stars?

To really experience the final frontier — today — you only have one option:

The International Space Station

Since November of 2000, the ISS has been continually occupied by rotating multinational “Expedition” crews. These men and women carry out scientific experiments and assist in the ongoing construction of the station, due to be completed by 2011.

Photo: FlyingSinger

For the most determined civilian space travelers, this is currently the ultimate goal — to journey to and live for a short time aboard the International Space Station.

In 2001, American Dennis Tito became the first true space tourist by doing just that.

He was shuttled to the ISS by the Russian Space Agency, on board a Soyuz spacecraft and with a small Russian crew, and spent seven days on the station.

A handful of other fee-paying space travelers have followed Tito, most recently Canadian Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté.

Logistics

Russia is still the only game in town for getting to the ISS. But you can’t just call the Kremlin and ask for a ride. All Soyuz trips are brokered by the American company Space Adventures.

Its space tourist program includes intensive astronaut/cosmonaut training — think zero-gravity jet flights, underwater spacewalk simulations, and spins in a high-g centrifuge — in addition to the flight and an average of 10 days on the station.

Cost

The exact amount paid by each Space Adventures client is not readily disclosed, but figures ranging from $20 to $30 million USD are most often tossed around.

For just $3 million, you can sit in on all the training, only to watch the Soyuz blast off without you.

Individual training exercises, “launch tours,” and other opportunities are available for much less.

ISS visitors are now able to participate in a spacewalk for an additional $15 million — so far, no one has accepted the challenge.

Sub-Orbital Flights

If you aren’t a dot-com billionaire or haven’t started your own interpretative circus troupe, there might still be hope for you.

Sub-orbital flights are the up-and-coming trend in space tourism, transporting passengers in small, airplane-like craft beyond the internationally recognized boundary of space (100km straight up).

Richard Branson is looking to take the lead in this. His Virgin Galactic has already pre-sold over 250 $200,000 tickets for flights that will begin at an as-of-yet-unspecified date.

Photo: Mike Miley

Virgin is the only company with the rights to SpaceShipTwo, successor to the Scaled Composites craft that won the Ansari X PRIZE back in 2004.

Weekly flights will launch from California’s Mojave Spaceport and carry six passengers to an altitude of 109km (68 miles), where they will experience several minutes of weightlessness and have views of twinkle-free stars and the curvature of Earth.

And Virgin’s not alone. Companies like Space Adventures and Armadillo Aerospace are also developing sub-orbital tourist flights to launch from spaceports around the world.

For a less elevated expedition, Incredible Adventures runs flights to what they refer to as “the edge of space” (21km/68,000ft) in a Russian MiG-31 fighter jet. While certainly not an extraterrestrial voyage, passengers do get a glimpse of black sky. Cost: $10,000+

What the Future Holds

The space tourism industry is advancing faster than most people realize. Within a decade or two, the well-heeled (and perhaps even you and I) will enjoy a variety of options for experiencing outer space. Detailed analysis of potential space tourism markets can be found here.

Photo: .Martin.

Resorts in space

One avenue being explored by several outfits, including Bigelow Aerospace and Galactic Suite, is the construction of space hotels. Bigelow already has two prototype modules in orbit.

By the time any orbiting resorts are ready for use, it’s estimated transport will cost around $20,000 per guest, plus tens of thousands more per night’s stay.

The Space Island Group takes things a step further, advertising plans to construct multiple independent orbiting “islands.” The islands will house

factories, hotels, medical centers, laboratories, zero-gravity sports arenas and satellite repair centers, along with dozens of other uses which can’t be imagined today.

They make the rather bold claim that 20,000 people will be inhabiting and working within their islands by the year 2020.

Beyond Earth orbit

Space Adventures is stepping it up in this category as well. For a mere $100 million, you can sign up to be one of the first to take part in their circumlunar mission.

Following six to eight months of training, you’ll launch aboard a specially designed Soyuz craft and, depending on whether you make a pitstop at the ISS or not, spend 10 to 21 days in space.

The climax will come as you swing round the far side of the moon and experience the allegedly spiritual sight of earthrise.

Sound like a pipe dream? National Geographic reports this voyage could be ready to launch in three years.

The farther space tourism reaches, the cheaper the close-at-hand options will become. Here’s to adding Earth orbit to our travel itineraries within our lifetime.

[Editor's note: Read this post in the new Space Destination Center at travora.com.]

About The Author

Hal Amen

Hal Amen is a managing editor at Matador. His personal travel blog is WayWorded.

  • Kathy

    I’ll bet in addition to monetary obstacles, there are/will be age limitations for all of these adventures…and I was born just a bit early. [although I've read scifi about oldsters living in orbit to ease gravity's burden on failing joints....]

    Guess I’ll just have to read about it in your blog 8-)

  • http://www.julianehuang.com Juliane

    Best line ever: “If you aren’t a dot-com billionaire or haven’t started your own interpretative circus troupe, there might still be hope for you.”

  • http://musictravelwrite.wordpress.com Michelle

    This both excites and terrifies me. If it ever becomes affordable enough, I’d have a serious inner battle going on…how could I do it? But how could I not?

  • http://travelerahoy.wordpress.com/ Alouise

    When I was in grade 5 my elementary school participated in this thing called Marsville. And I remember everyone talking about how in 2015 there’ll be people traveling to Mars, and we’d be living there. Hmm guess we were watching too many episodes of The Jetsons and Star Trek. I think space travel would be really neat, but it’s too expensive for the average person. Even a 5 day GAP Adventure trip to the end of the earth is $32000 Canadian (you get to see the endless black of space on on side and the curvature of the earth on the other according to the online brochure). Plus not to mention the environmental impact a flight into space would have. How many trees would you have to plant in order to offset that carbon footprint?

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      That’s a great point, Alouise. I doubt anyone’s begun considering the environmental impact of this, as large-scale stuff is still in the planning stages.

      Space elevator, anyone?

  • joshua johnson

    This article had be 13 again. Seriously, just as I had given up my life as relatively space-less you have given me hope. Cool idea Hal.

  • http://carlo-alcos.com Carlo

    There’s too much to see and do on this planet, I can’t even contemplate a trip to space!

    Great and fascinating article Hal, awesome execution.

  • http://www.mikesryukyugallery.com Ryukyu Mike

    It’d be really cool if they hurry up and get the prices low enough so we can go pollute other planets before this one’s all used up. Wonder if they’ll have smoking and no smoking flights?
    Great article, Hal and that ARMY dude shoots some awesome photos!

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      Indeed, Mike! I wonder how he can afford such sweet camera equip ;)

  • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner

    Especially like the last section. Circumlunar missions may be first down the line to get major media attention, but mark my words: the first spacecraft to reach Mars will be privately funded, not a NASA undertaking.

    Hal, did you study this in college?

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      Not at all–just a sci-fi nerd.

      You?

  • CAllenDoudna

    Imagine a glass jar out in space. I’m not certain of the exact diameter, but it would be close to 50 kilometers (30 miles) in diameter and about 300 kilometers (180 miles) long. At about 50 kilometers to achieve Earth-normal gravity it would rotate once every 24 hours. On the inside slightly less than half the wall would becovered with dirt to form a curving valley (though gravitationally it would be flat). A little over half would be a window and with30 kilometers of atmosphere this would appear to be a blue sky. The sun would thus rise over the eastern edge of the valley at 0600 (6:00 am) travel across a very normal-looking daytime sky, and set over the western edge of the valley at 1000 (8:00 pm) as the back of the valley rotated to face the sun and the window rotated out to face the stars for a normal-looking nighttime sky. There would be 14 hours of daylight and10 hours of night.

    The area of the valley would be somewhat larger than New Jersey or Israel/Palestine. Every 50 kilometers the valley would be divided by a hollow mountain range one kilometer high going from one side of the valley to the other so we don’t see everything all at once. Cities would be inside the mountains.

    As an alternative design, a series of 100 meter wide lagoons with 200 meters of atol would cross the valley from side to side all down its width and about every kilometer there would be a one-kilometer wide chanel running down the valley from end to end. However, these are only average measurments because in order to prevent us from seeing everything all at once and feeling like we’re in an artificial environment with all the straight-line water chanels the lagoons and chanels would be in a series of S-shapped curves. There would be a bungalow every 100 meters along both sides each atol.

    If the planet Mercury were converted into such glass jars we would have a living area in the Solar System 100,000 times the size of Earth. Tankers swooping down into the atmospheres could retrieve amonia, methane, and water which we could break down to create water and a breathable atmosphere.

    Now imagine an artificial sun. Around this sun we place 40 or 50 of these jars perhaps 100 kilometers apart and in a circle around the artificial sun as wagons around a campfire. In front of this circle of wagons is a large sheet of aluminum foil. The light radiating equtorially from this artificial sun is the sunlight for the wagons. The light radiating forward is captured by the aluminum foil and acts like wind on the sail of a ship propelling the wagon train through intersteller space and the light radiating backward does the same.

    While such a wagon train could in theory reach the speed of light it would be very foolish to travel faster than about 1% of the speed of light because at 10% of the speed of light a small rock would strike with the explossive force of a nuclear explosion. It is also quite presumptious of us to assume there are not planets in intersteller space merely because we can’t see them since there isd no sun to shine on them. It would be like assuming there are no rocks or shoals on the ocean to dash your ship to pieces on simply because they’re underwater and you can’t see them. There are probably five times as many solar systems orbiting around a Jupiter or Saturn as around a star–and we wouldn’t want to slam into one of these, now would we? We would want to stop and pick up fresh supplies of ice and hydrocarbons and perhaps build twenty or thirty new wagon trains fot house a growing population.

    It will take centuries to get to the next star. For the first generation or two we will still be close enough to Earth that we can go to Grandmother’s house on Earth for Thanksgiving and still send video mail for a couple of decades after that. By then, we won’t know our cousins Back There and we won’t miss seeing them at all. When we get to a new solar system who in their right mind would want to leave the jars to live on a planet where the gravity will be wrong, the day length wrong, and the sunlight wrong? And rather that require several thousand kilometers of rock from the surface to the planet’s core to stand on we can have so much more room by merely using the meter or two we will need to make the jar out of so that a small rocky body like Mercury could yield a living area a hundred thousand times the size of Earth.

    • CAllenDoudna

      Oops! The amospheres tankers would retrieve methane, amonia, and water from are the atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn and the other gas giants. Also their moons, rings, and asteroids.

  • Anand Jyotsna

    it was a exiting  trip  to outer space

  • Anand Jyotsna

    where the 8 planets are there. we even saw our earth! it was very interesting to be in the dark. i felt nurves . altogether it was a nice trip to oter space!!!!!!!

  • alvard

    Magic Mushrooms a less exhaustive alternative

  • Get Vitamin A

    that’s so cool!

  • Tasha Parker

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