Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Space Tourism

Space tourism is a recent phenomenon where wealthy individuals or corporations are spending up to $25 million for a chance to travel in low Earth orbit (LEO) and beyond. California multi-millionaire Dennis Tito spent $20 million on space tourism to become the first paying tourist, in 2001. Tito, the founder of Wilshire Associates and former JPL scientist, traveled aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule, launched by U. S. company, Space Adventures, Ltd, where he spent 7 days aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Space tourism has become a bigger goal over the past few years as NASA has announced they are cutting down on the ventures and the Shuttle will be retired in 2010.
NASA hopes to rely on the commercial orbital transportation systems (COTS) to shuttle astronauts and cargo to the ISS thereafter and it looks like commercial craft will be available by then.

If you've ever seen Arnold Schwarzenegger's movie "Total Recall" you'll know that space tourism was a central theme to that movie. But, space tourism is not just some pipe dream as companies like Scaled Composites, Blue Origin, and SpaceX are developing craft and programs to do just this.

Following Dennis Tito as the second to partake of the space tourism industry, in 2002 was South African millionaire, Mark Shuttleworth, who certainly was "shuttle worthy" as he also spent around $20 million to travel aboard a Russian Soyuz TM-34 and spend 8 days aboard the ISS.
Following Shuttleworth in 2005, was Greg Olsen, who spent the same amount on tourism to travel to the ISS via a Russian Soyuz capsule. And space tourism has not stopped there, as the third fee-paying tourist, Olsen rejected the "tourist" designation noting that he had conducted several experiments while on the ISS. Olsen is co-founder and chairman of Sensors Unlimited Inc., a company developing infared cameras and sensors. In 2006, Iran-born American citizen Anousheh Ansari became the fourth in the ISS tourism lineup and the first female to buy a ticket in the space tourism industry.

Some have argued that John Glenn in 1998 was the first official extraterrestrial tourist, but others discount that claim since Glenn was a non-paying participant in the flight. If you think also that space tourism is so expensive that nobody will want to go, then think again since there is a waiting list to be launched into LEO and aboard the ISS.

Space tourism has been criticized as being a "playground for the rich." And, while there may be some current truth to this, the vision for the future is to make space tourism affordable and available to the middle class in just a few, short years. While 'N Sync singer Lance Bass may have fallen short of cash and Madonna was voted down in her request, still many companies are working on making suborbital flights affordable to the general public.
Tired of Disneyland and Magic Mountain? Been to all the major continents and want more? Done all of the extreme sports and just can't get that adrenaline rush anymore? Space tourism may just be the Next Big Thing on your agenda in the not too distant future.

Even Bigelow Aerospace and the X-Prize Foundation are getting in on the act by offering monetary awards for breakthrough technology in the space tourism industry. By most estimates, space tourism may be a reality as soon as 2009 or 2010. Just as there was a "race to space" decades ago, now there is a race to space tourism in this decade.

So, if you've got the bug to travel and have always dreamed of going beyond the confines of Earth, that possibility may just exist sooner than you think. You'll have to wait a few years to book your flight though as all of the details are being worked out. Until, then come back to this site often to see what others are doing to advance the space tourism industry.

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