When will space tourism cost less than £30,000?

Bezos actually founded Blue Origin in 2000, but his Amazon activities have rather overshadowed his extraterrestrial ambitions so far). Branson, meanwhile, created Virgin Galactic in 2004, but the past 17 years have been defined more by frustrations and delays than notable excursions into orbit.

Worse, the events of October 31, 2014 could have destroyed Virgin Galactic. On a beautiful fall Friday, his flagship VSS Enterprise crashed into the harsh Mojave Desert soil while on a test mission. The accident claimed the life of Michael Alsbury, one of the two pilots, and could have taken the second (Peter Siebold parachuted 10 miles to safety). An investigation would accuse a mixture of human error and inadequate security procedures. Photographs of the wreckage did nothing for the company’s reputation, the craft lying in California dirt – shattered, but with that famous Virgin logo still visible on the mangled fuselage. It felt like the end of the dream. Branson suggested that might be the case.

Instead, he proved to be a catalyst. A successor ship, VSS Unity, was completed in February 2016; his test flights over the past three years have brought Branson closer and closer to his goal. The most recent, on May 22, reached an altitude of 55.4 miles, a height that is below the “Kármán Line” (62 miles) with which the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale defines the boundary between our planet’s atmosphere and outer space, but, above all, exceeds the 50 miles that NASA and the US Air Force consider the marker of the same border. If Branson and the other five VSS Unity astronauts achieve either milestone, the flight will be considered an unblemished triumph. Whatever Bezos achieves a week later, he will still be second in this particular billionaire battle.

It’s easy, of course, to raise an eyebrow at these surprisingly deep-pocketed men and their shiny toys, especially in steamy times like these. But despite all the astronomical sums involved, Branson and Bezos’ shot for the moon has reinvigorated an old question. Will mankind ever be able to travel to space for a vacation, and if so, will such travel be available at a price that those of us who don’t have accounts banking multiple can reasonably afford?

Comments are closed.