Space tourism is an expensive way to get the ultra-rich into space

Space tourism is an expensive way to get the ultra-rich into space

Washington D.C.- If you have tens of millions of dollars to spend and want to win space travel history, so now is your chance to book a flight to the International Space Station (ISS) – and maybe even a spacewalk too.

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Left to right: Glen De Vries, Audrey Powers, William Shatner and Chris Boshuizen travel to low Earth orbit in a Blue Origin spacecraft. © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Going on a spacewalk is something no individual has ever done before, according to Tom Shelley, who runs US company Space Adventures.

His company specializes in cost-prohibitive space tourism and partners with the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

A flight to the ISS costs the equivalent of $56 million. A spacewalk scheduled for 2023 or 2024 will likely cost even more.

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Although the collaboration between space companies and Russian and Western officials is increasingly in question amid Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, space tourism appears to be here to stay.

These brief multimillion-dollar trips have already made headlines thanks to the trips of two billionaires in 2021.

The first, British entrepreneur Richard Branson, flew into space this summer, followed soon after by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Bezos sent two more flights with a total of 10 passengers, including actor William Shatner, known to many as Captain Kirk of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise.

Bezos is planning more brief space trips in 2022 and said demand for tickets was very high. Branson also plans to offer flights.

SpaceX and other private spaceflight projects

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Prepare your hand luggage and your wallet, space tourism is taking off. © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Then there’s billionaire SpaceX owner Elon Musk, who also sent tourists to space in 2021.

Its four passengers, none of whom were trained astronauts, spent several days in space, doing several orbits around the Earth aboard a Crew Dragon.

Meanwhile, the Axiom Space company aims to bring tourists to the ISS in 2022, working with NASA in the first such collaboration.

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Roscosmos recently transported Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant Yozo Hirano to the ISS.

All of this space travel might suggest that there is a space traffic jam, but although tourism has increased dramatically, there is no sign of a space tourism boom yet.

Not only are the prices out of reach for most of us ordinary people, but spacecraft and the ISS are running out of space, making it difficult to get many people into orbit at the same time.

Only nine individuals have joined the ISS since 2001.

Space tourism prerequisites

The Russian Soyuz rocket is the means by which cosmonauts and astronauts travel to the ISS.

The Russian Soyuz rocket is the means by which cosmonauts and astronauts travel to the ISS. © IMAGO / ITAR-TASS

After NASA stopped passenger flights to the ISS, only Russian Soyuz rockets flew there, from 2011 to 2020.

Private spacecraft flown on behalf of NASA have been heading there for 18 months, which could further boost space tourism.

Russia, meanwhile, is converting spacecraft so they can be piloted by a single trained cosmonaut, creating space for two tourists in the Soyuz.

Last fall, Russia also tested an extra-short training program for tourists. The fate of this collaboration must be determined by geopolitical factors and whether Russian President Vladimir Putin continues his offensive in Ukraine.

But given the interest from deep-pocketed space fans, the company appears to be solid. Beyond money, what space travelers really need is time.

“Given that there is a small percentage of people who can afford orbital spaceflight, and many of these people have obligations in their lives, such as running a business, it can be difficult to dedicate their time to training “, explains Shelley.

Health, too, is a prerequisite. “Our customers are still in good general health, but we have worked over the years to reduce the health requirements for our customers to go into space,” Shelley said.

You don’t have to be perfect, he hastens to add. “As long as we know the health risks, they can be managed by our medical staff. There is no age limit to participate, our clients just need to be in good general health.”

He notes that so far, little data is available on how the bodies of older people, for example, fare in a weightless environment.

Such data could be interesting, for example, for flights to Mars.

Heavy criticism of the industry

Spacecraft launches are extremely emissions intensive.

Spacecraft launches are extremely emissions intensive. © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Many have criticized space tourism, especially for its impact on the environment. It was dismissed as a business for the rich, enjoyed by the rich.

Critics say it is being pushed forward largely without conducting scientific research that could benefit humanity, and with little regard for the climate.

Activists point to the immense amounts of fuel required for rocket launches and the masses of equipment and logistics required. They calculate that the climate balance per inhabitant for space tourists is catastrophic.

Meanwhile, astronauts and cosmonauts from national space agencies reject space tourists who call themselves astronauts while spending only minutes marveling at what they see.

The growing number of space tourists has led the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to hash a program giving everyone who had been in space a coveted wing pin.

“The Astronaut Wings program, established in 2004, has fulfilled its original purpose of bringing more attention to this exciting endeavor,” said FAA Chief Wayne Monteith.

Nowadays, anyone who travels to space is simply added to a list of names published online.

the bud space tourism the industry is about as exclusive as frivolous spending and takes a heavy toll on the environment.

Cover photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

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