Thrill seekers may soon be getting their adrenaline — and enviable Instagram snaps — of the last frontier, when space tourism finally launches.
All you need is a little patience. And a lot of money.
Here’s an overview of where things stand.
Who offers space flights?
Two companies offer short “suborbital” jumps within minutes: Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, founded by Richard Branson.
The New Shepard Blue Origin rocket took off vertically and the crew capsule detached and crossed the Karman line (62 miles, or 100 kilometers, in altitude), before falling back to Earth with three parachutes.
Virgin Galactic uses a large transport plane, which takes off from a horizontal runway then drops a rocket-powered spacecraft. It in turn soared to an altitude of over 50 miles before sliding back down.
In both cases, up to six passengers can remove themselves from their seats to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and enjoy the view of Earth from space.
When can you go?
Virgin Galactic said regular commercial flights would start from 2022, following two more test flights. Their waiting list is long, with 600 tickets sold so far.
But the company estimates it will eventually run up to 400 flights per year. Two seats on one of the first flights are up for grabs in a lucky draw: registration is open until September 1.
As for Blue Origin, no calendar details have been announced yet.
“We are planning two more flights this year, then targeting even more by 2022,” a spokesman told AFP.
Another way to go into space is through reality television. Space Hero, an upcoming event, said it plans to send the winner of the competition to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2023.
How much does it cost?
The first tickets sold by Virgin Galactic cost between $200,000 and $250,000 each, but the company has warned that costs for future sales will rise.
Blue Origin hasn’t announced pricing yet. The anonymous winners of the public auction for seats on the first crewed flight paid $28 million, but decided to postpone their trip.
It is not known how much was bid for the seat secured by Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen, who will fly at the winning bidder’s place.
The more “budget-conscious” might consider spending $125,000 for a seat on Space Neptune: a capsule that boasts 360-degree windows and is lifted into the upper atmosphere by a balloon the size of a football stadium.
Despite the promise of spectacular views, the balloon rises only 19 miles — well beyond the limits of space, and weightless.
The 300 seats for 2024 have all been sold, but reservations are open for 2025.
Are the physical requirements difficult?
No — you are only expected to be in reasonable condition. Virgin Galactic’s training lasts only five days.
Blue Origin promises to teach you everything you need to know “the day before launch,” and its first crewed flights include pioneering aviator Wally Funk, who at 82 years old will become the oldest astronaut.
Company requirements include being able to climb seven stairs in under 90 seconds (launch tower height) and between 5’0″ and 110 pounds (152 centimeters and 50 kilograms) and 6’4″ and 223 pounds (193 cm and 100 kg).
What about SpaceX?
Elon Musk’s company is also getting into the space tourism game, but its plans involve much longer trips. The cost is also estimated to be enormous — tens of millions of dollars.
In September, American billionaire Jared Isaacman had chartered a mission called Inspiration4 to take him and three other passengers into orbit around Earth on the SpaceX Crew Dragon, launched into space by a Falcon 9 rocket.
Then in January 2022, three entrepreneurs will travel to the ISS with experienced astronauts. The mission, named Ax-1, is being hosted by the company Axiom Space, which has signed up for three other future flights with SpaceX.
Elon Musk’s company is also planning a trip to orbit for four people, organized by intermediary Space Adventures – the same company responsible for Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa’s flight to the ISS in December, aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.
Maezawa is also supposed to travel around the Moon in 2023, this time using a rocket still under development by SpaceX, called Starship.
He invited eight members of the public to join him – but applications are now closed.