The Space Tourism Industry is about to boom and if this seems a bit far-fetched to you, go ask your grandparents what they thought about flying in an airplane to another continent - it was unfathomable! Yet within just two generations one billion people fly around the world every year - that's three million every day.
So although many people feel that a holiday in outer space is nothing more than a concept from a sci-fi film, the facts are that people want to go there and the technology exists to take us there. All that’s left is the race to introduce the first commercial spaceline to future flyers.
To Infinity and Beyond
People want to go there and the technology exists to take us there...all that’s left is the race to introduce the first commercial spaceline to future flyers.
Holidays to the moon and back are well on track with none other than the multi-tasking mogul, Sir Richard Branson, leading the way. Virgin Galactic – which Branson describes as "by far and away my boldest venture" – has so far received more than $55 million in deposits from 445 first-time space travellers from around the world. They are also South Africa’s first Accredited Space Agent of which Branson says: “I am delighted that we are now making it easier for South Africans to book their seat on Virgin Galactic”. The first flights are scheduled for the end of 2013, a date that puts Virgin Galactic in pole position in the race to commercialise space.
It has cost Branson more than £162 million to design and build a fleet of WhiteKnightTwo motherships and smaller SpaceShipTwo planes. The technology is striking, innovative and made to whisk customers more than 100 kilometres above the Earth's surface. Strapped to the belly of a jet-powered mothership, the spaceplane – carrying two pilots and six passengers – will take off from Spaceport America, a futuristic complex on a desolate patch of land in New Mexico. Ascending until it reaches an altitude of 15 kilometres, the spaceplane will detach; its rocket engine will ignite; and passengers will experience serious G force as they blast off to higher orbit at a speed of more than 4 000 kilometres per hour. The blue sky outside will turn black as the craft hurtles out of the atmosphere.
After 90 seconds, the pilot will cut the engine and passengers will coast in complete weightless silence as their spaceplane glides into space. More than 100 kilometres below, the curve of the Earth will be clearly visible against the dark background of space. Passengers will then be allowed to unbuckle from their seats and have six or seven minutes to enjoy an out-of-seat experience floating around the cabin with the opportunity to absorb the life-changing views and take some killer ‘holiday snaps’ before their ship starts to arc downwards for re-entry. The wings will point upwards to turn the craft into a giant shuttlecock that will "flutter" back to Earth. Back down at an altitude of around 15 kilometres, its wings will be returned to their original configuration and the craft will glide to a spaceport landing.
Brief but action-packed, the once-in-lifetime Virgin Galactic experience includes a three-day Astronaut Training Course and ‘G Force’ Acclimatization at the spaceport before launch day.
First Time Flyers
To date only seven people, all billionaires, have bought their way into space for a week's stay at the International Space Station (ISS). Although they have opened up travel to outer space, this hardly brings spaceflights to the masses, but Virgin Galactic aims to make space travel more attainable to the general public and uses technology that overcomes the fundamental safety, cost and environmental issues associated with space access.
Among those booked on Virgin Galactic's first mission are Branson himself, his son Sam and daughter Holly. Other high rollers booking the £125 000 journey include Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Ashton Kutcher, Formula 1 drivers Rubens Barrichello and Niki Lauda, and scientists James Lovelock and Stephen Hawking; Princess Beatrice and Paris Hilton also make appearances on early flight schedules. And while the flight lasts only two hours or so, with a mere five minutes spent coasting in weightlessness, the bragging rights will go on forever.
Our South African Space Cadet
Also leading the way in the space race is 39-year-old ex Pretoria Boys High School student, Elon Musk. Listed as one of Time Magazine's ‘100 People who Most Affected the World’ as well as one of the 75 ‘Most Influential People of the 21st Century’, the Former PayPal entrepreneur invested $100 million of his own money to become the Founder, CEO and Chief Designer of SpaceX.
Since 2002 the company has developed a series of next-generation rockets and spacecraft with the ultimate goal of extending human life to other planets. "Sooner or later, we must expand life beyond this green and blue ball - or go extinct,” says Musk.
NASA awarded SpaceX a contract to develop and demonstrate a human-rated Dragon as part of its Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) programme to transport crew to the ISS (International Space Station). Musk has stated that one of his goals is to improve the cost and reliability of access to space. The first manned flights are expected in 2015 when SpaceX is set have a fully certified, human-rated launch escape system incorporated into its spacecraft.
So fifty years after man first ventured into space, the day of space tourism is now upon us. Best start booking your seats.