The plutocrats’ guide to space tourism

Houston, we need a mortgage. Space tourism is back after a few first hitches (crash). Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX are planning more launches, and Jeff Bezos has just announced that he’ll be heading for the skies next month on his Blue Origin program’s New Shepard rocket. The Amazon founder is due to go up on July 20 – or tomorrow if he subscribes to Prime. The skies could soon be rich in plutocrats.

The opening up of the space market couldn’t be more timely because, frankly, it’s becoming very difficult to plan a vacation right now, and suborbital flight looks likely to be on the green list. Of course, it is expensive. A ride on Virgin Galactic is expected to cost between $ 200,000 and $ 250,000 per flight. And that’s without the cost of the PCR tests you have to take after you land.

Two hundred thousand dollars is very much on the Ryanair side of the market, although you might not have to pay extra to get an assigned seat. The highest bid for a seat with Bezos on New Shepard is around $ 2.8 million. Presumably the food on board is much better and the airport lounge offers free peanuts. Last year, SpaceX teamed up with another company to offer a multi-day stay at a space station for a bargain price of $ 55 million. A lot given that it’s only a three-star space station and doesn’t even have a pool.

On the verge of Covid-19, space tourism also offers some protection against the kind of sudden travel restrictions that have freaked out thousands of vacationers after Portugal’s unexpected switch from green to amber status. Since most space escapades do not last longer than a few hours, there is little chance of being reclassified out of orbit, even with the fear of a variant of Neptune. In fact, the time you spend weightless on one of these flights is only a few minutes, which surely isn’t long enough even for Matt Hancock to ruin your vacation.

This may be the future of tourism. Yes, we have booked five hours in the Algarve this summer. And you? Oh, one morning in Dubrovnik, how beautiful.

We once expected to be famous for 15 minutes. Now we can dream of being somewhere else for half an hour. Apparently, space travel provides for a “training” of a few days, which presumably involves walking around an air base in a flight suit with the word “astronaut” sewn onto the pocket and feasting on freeze-dried breakfasts. .

Eagle eyes will have noticed, however, that space tourism may be far from the mass market. There are also arguments as to whether suborbital flights really count as “space” travel. But don’t worry, at 90 km you can definitely see the curvature of your spine. Officially, it’s space if you cross the Kármán Line and spend at least 10 minutes in the Duty Free Shop at the end of the Atmosphere. (At current prices, this will likely deliver quality products: watches engraved with “Mom and Dad crossed the Kármán line, and all I got was that ugly Patek Philippe.”)

Personally, I am quite happy that space tourism remains a sport for the rich. The British in Magaluf are bad enough. Do we really want them in space, knocking on the rocket door and chanting “Two World Wars and a World Cup” to all the meteors that pass by? Also, at this price, the last thing you want is to get into orbit and find other people have put their towels on all the lounge chairs.

There are concerns about the environmental impact – although Branson insists emissions are now no worse than a return flight from Singapore and, obviously, less frequent. Perhaps that’s a small price to pay to give the wealthy celebrities the chance to tell us about the deeper feeling they’ve gained for the planet after the ride.

While space tourism may struggle to become a mass market, it might be possible to get a full simulator with a selfie in front of a photo of Earth from space for your social media feeds, which obviously is. the main purpose of the trip anyway. Many say you see the earth differently once you post it on Instagram.

Follow Robert on Twitter @robertshrimsley and send him an e-mail at [email protected]

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