Taking a vacation in the modern era usually involves a plane or car, a lot of luggage and a desirable destination like the beach or the mountains. Tourism is a booming industry and companies are constantly trying to figure out what might be the next cash cow. However, the earth only has so many places that you can charge tourists to travel – what if you could take tourists to space for a small fee? Pay $100 dollars and you’re whisked into low-earth orbit. Pay $500 dollars and you get to see the moon up close. Pay $1000 and you’re on your way to Mars. And of course, imagine the profit you’d make selling photographs!
Space truly is the final frontier, and soon, it might just be the site of your next vacation.
So how real is this sci-fi reality? Realer than you might think.
Following the announcement in September of this year that SpaceX has signed on Japanese CEO Yusaku Maezawa to be one of the first passengers to travel around the moon, it’s gotten the world’s eyes set on the future of tourism-centered space-travel.
To understand the future of this industry though, we need to take a step back and see just what it entails.
Space Tourism is exactly what it sounds like, some form of travel into space for the average human, or the average rich human. It also means that little training will be needed to go into space, differing from the intense multi-year training that NASA astronauts have undergone in the past.
In the early-2000s, the Russian Space agency took seven paying citizens from the public into space as the first recorded public transit into space. The pilot program actually went on for a number of years but was finally canceled in 2010 when NASA canceled the Shuttle program requiring Russian rockets to get to the ISS.
With that brief stint of space tourism in our past, today there are a number of private companies looking to pioneer the industry. SpaceX being one of the main companies in the running, there’s also Virgin Galactic, and Jeff Bezo’s company, Blue Origin.
These major players are all hoping to soon launch commercial tourism flights into outer space, but they still have a long way to go. The main difference this go around is that all these companies are private, in stark contrast to the Russian Space Agency.
Commercial space tourism flights are set to begin shortly with SpaceX likely being the first to make it happen. They initially were going to fly two tourists around the moon in late-2018, but later postponed the flight.
The current SpaceX project on the calendar is to fly Yusaku Maezawa and 8 others around the moon in 2023. The other two main players, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have all forecasted trips starting in 2019 or 2020, but given the industry standard of consistently missing time deadlines, it has yet to be seen whether any of these planned trip timelines will be met. The short answer to when space tourism flights will rocket into modern commonplace is likely “within the next 5 to 10 years.”
The other issue apart from when space tourism will happen is going to be cost, and bringing it down will take a lot of time. Right now Virgin Galactic requires an up-front deposit of $250,000 for a seat on a future flight. That’s just to get on the waiting list. SpaceX’s deposit costs will likely be similar and Yusaku Maezawa likely paid many many millions of dollars to secure his flight.
I think it’s safe to say that those costs aren’t really affordable to the average person in the world and they even might be steep for the top 1%. Those costs have to come down to around 5 to 10 thousand before we start seeing middle-class families saving up to take a once in a lifetime trip to the moon. Even then, that’s a lot of money for a trip in a cramped rocket into space where you have a high chance of dying.
If you’re hoping to go into space on a tourist flight when they become more of a reality, you need to start getting in shape. There’s likely going to be a fitness test to get on a flight roster as well as maximum weight requirements. While space tourists may not need to be as trained as astronauts, the rigors of space flight still require a certain level of physical aptitude.
So, within the next decade experts forecast that we’ll start seeing regular space tourism flights. Within the next 25 years, experts suggest that costs could come down steeple so that more people could afford it. Safe space travel infrastructure takes a long time to develop, but slowly, it’s becoming a reality. For adults right now, if you’re hoping to go to space on a tourist trip, you need to be working out constantly and making some cold hard cash. For younger kids, you probably just need to focus on transcending into the upper middle class by the middle of your life. Succeed to do those things, and space travel could be on your horizon.
This post was inspired by our friends over at the Unprofessional Engineering Podcast! If you want to listen to 2 engineers comically talk about the future of space tourism or tons of other topics, then check out their podcast here.