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Space tourism: Finally a reality?

Space tourism is happening: with commercial zero-gravity flights predicted by the end of 2018, your next luxury trip could be out of this world

Space tourism: Finally a reality?
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As the archetypal travel addict — and a man of humble abilities living well after the zenith of the age of adventure, when most summits of global exploration have been crested, and depths plumbed — I can’t tell you how much I’d love to go into space.

Up until now, though, I’d have needed Bruce Wayne levels of wealth to experience genuine zero gravity — like the first space tourist, Dennis Tito, who travelled with Space Adventures in 2001 — or the kind of scientific skills that differentiate we shaven cavemen from those who have made the human race what it’s cracked up to be. You see, our real-life Bruce Waynes — Virgin’s Richard Branson, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos — are planning to bring trips to space to the masses, or at least within reach of the luxury traveller.

Justin Bieber is among the celebrities signed up for the first Virgin Galactic flights into outer space. Having found fame from singing and being generally disagreeable, he does have the disposable $250,000 (£185,000) for air fare. Branson started selling tickets for this flight more than a decade ago — with stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie, also poised to travel — but after a high-profile test flight fatality, his dream of taking tourists on his planned two-and-a-half-hour suborbital voyages, with six minutes of zero-gravity, seemed no closer to reality.

Since then, though, there’s been a sudden flurry of activity, with Virgin Galactic receiving a $1bn (£741m) investment from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund in October 2017, which Branson claims will bring forward launch dates to the end of 2018, saying: “We’re now just months away from Virgin Galactic going into space with people on board.”

In February 2018 Elon Musk’s project, SpaceX, launched his Tesla Roadster automobile into space using Falcon Heavy, the most powerful operational rocket in the world, making him the lead car in the billionaire space race.

Jeff Bezos’s entrant, Blue Origin, offers a similar experience to Virgin Galactic’s, giving guests the chance to somersault weightlessly in a space capsule, while looking out the windows at Earth, 60 miles below. He says he’ll be sending his first tourists into space in 2019.

It’s not just day trips to space we can expect over the next few years, though. Orion Span is planning 12-day vacations to the world’s first luxury space hotel, Aurora Station, from as early as 2022. Aurora has more windows than any other spacecraft ever, and — orbiting at 200 miles above the Earth’s surface — offers weightlessness.

“Orion Span will combine the luxuries of a fine hotel with an authentic astronaut experience,” Frank Bunger, CEO of Orion Span, tells me. “Luxurious design, high-quality bedding, top-notch space food and private suites. Aurora Station will stay in orbit permanently, and guests will come up and return separately with a rocket launch, potentially partnered with space agencies, or companies like SpaceX or Blue Origin.”

Orion Span is planning to run one trip per month, but these rooms won’t be cheap: the starting price is $9.5m (£7m) per person, including training, 12-days on Aurora Station, and the launch. So it will cost you nearly $40m (£29.6m) to ensure you’re not trapped in space with Justin Bieber. 

Published in the Jul/Aug 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)