Several hundred people have already booked their tickets and begun training for a spectacular voyage: a few minutes, or perhaps days, in the weightlessness of space.
The mainly wealthy first-time space travelers are preparing to take part in one of several private missions which are preparing to launch. The era of space tourism is on the horizon 60 years after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space.
Two companies, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin LLC, are building spacecraft capable of sending private clients on suborbital flights to the edge of space lasting several minutes.
Glenn King is the director of spaceflight training at the National Aerospace Training and Research Center, a private company based in Pennsylvania that has already trained nearly 400 future Virgin Galactic passengers for their trips.
“The oldest person I trained was 88 years old,” King said.
The training program lasts two days — a morning of classroom instruction and tests in a centrifuge.
This involves putting the trainee in a single-seat cockpit at the end of an 8m-long arm and spinning them around to simulate gravitational force, or G force. A medical team is on hand at all times.
NASA’s training for shuttle crew members lasted two years, but the duration has been drastically reduced by the commercial space industry because of the “numbers of people that want to get up in space,” King said.
“We can’t take two years to train these people. We’ve got to get this down to a matter of days to get these people up,” he said.
“These people aren’t crews, just strictly passengers,” King said. “For a passenger, there isn’t a lot of work for you to do other than just relax, endure the G forces of launch or re-entry, and then once you’re orbital, enjoy the view out the window.”
King said the pass rate for the training course has been “99.9 percent.”
The cost ranges from several thousand US dollars to as much as US$10,000 if special care or medical monitoring is needed.
The single biggest barrier to “spaceflight for all” remains the price tag.
About 600 people have booked flights on Virgin Galactic, the company owned by British billionaire Richard Branson, and thousands more are on a waiting list.
The cost per flight? US$200,000 to US$250,000.
Virgin Galactic hopes to take its first private astronaut on a suborbital flight early next year, with eventual plans for 400 trips a year.
Blue Origin, owned by Amazon.com Inc founder Jeff Bezos, has not yet published prices or a calendar.
Money aside, pretty much anybody could go on a spaceflight.
“You don’t have to be in perfect physical health now to be able to go to space,” King said. “I’ve trained people with prosthetic devices. I’ve trained people with pacemakers — all kinds of people.”
The US Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees the aviation industry, recommended in 2006 that future “commercial passengers” on suborbital flights fill out a “simple medical history questionnaire.”
Orbital flights that go further and last longer would require a more detailed form and blood tests, X-rays and urine specimens.
Such flights, which cost millions of US dollars each, are envisioned by Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX), the company founded by billionaire Elon Musk, which has at least four planned over the coming years.
The first launch of only civilians, baptized “Inspiration4,” is scheduled to take place in September.
US billionaire Jared Isaacman has fully paid for a trip powered by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that would take him and three passengers on a three-day flight in low Earth orbit.
In January next year, Axiom Space Inc plans to send a former astronaut and three newcomers to the International Space Station. It eventually plans trips to the space station every six months.
Seven “space tourists” visited the space station between 2001 and 2009. A firm called Space Adventures Inc served as the intermediary for those flights and has partnered with SpaceX to send four customers into orbit around the Earth next year.
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has reserved a flight on SpaceX’s “Starship” in 2023 and is inviting eight other people to come along for the ride.
So when can we expect space tourism to become commonplace?
Difficult to say, said Robert Goehlich, an adjunct assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide.
“Suborbital and orbital tourist flights are currently near to happen,” Goehlich said. “The exact forecast is a challenge for each scenario.”
“A new investor might accelerate any schedule, while an accident might decelerate any planning,” he said.
Three major factors wold need to come together: Flights would have to be safe, profitable and environmentally friendly.
“In the long run, thinking about a mass space tourism market, surely sustainability aspects will play a more dominant role,” Goehlich said.
The rise of the cryptocurrency dogecoin has reached a new level after the token was used to pay for a lunar satellite launch. SpaceX, Elon Musk’s commercial rocket firm, is to embark on a moon voyage next year carrying a so-called cubesat — a mini-satellite used for space research — from Geometric Energy Corp that has been paid for entirely in dogecoin. The development is the latest twist in the saga over the digital token, which started as a joke in 2013, but is now a dominating Internet meme and sitting on a 21,000 percent rally in the past year. Musk has
CAPACITY EXPANSION: Construction of the site, which is to be the firm’s first mRNA production facility outside of Europe, is to begin this year and likely finish in 2023 COVID-19 vaccine maker BioNTech SE yesterday said it would build a Southeast Asia headquarters and manufacturing site in Singapore to produce hundreds of millions of messenger RNA (mRNA)-based vaccines per year. Construction of the site would start this year, and it could become operational by 2023, the German company said in a statement. “With this planned mRNA production facility, we will increase our overall network capacity, and expand our ability to manufacture and deliver our mRNA vaccines and therapies to people around the world,” BioNTech chief executive Ugur Sahin said. The vaccine produced by BioNTech jointly with Pfizer Inc of
OUTBREAK: About 200 of the airline’s 1,200 pilots are not able to work. Most of them have been quarantined to prevent further infection, but 12 have COVID-19 China Airlines Ltd (CAL,中華航空) yesterday confirmed that it would temporarily reduce its cargo flight services to cope with a pilot shortage, as one-sixth of its pilots have been sidelined by a COVID-19 outbreak. “We are working out a new schedule,” the airline said in a statement after local news media reports on Saturday said that it would be reducing its cargo services from Wednesday, primarily affecting US destinations. CAL declined to give details about its new operating plan, but the reports said that it would be suspending its cargo flights to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and
The Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) yesterday fined Citibank Taiwan Ltd (花旗台灣) NT$10 million (US$357,194) and DBS Bank Taiwan (星展台灣) NT$6 million for breaches of the nation’s anti-money laundering (AML) regulations. The NT$10 million fine is the highest penalty that it has imposed on a domestic bank, the commission said. Citibank Taiwan failed to set up a sound mechanism for evaluating clients’ risk of money laundering and for detecting suspicious transactions, Banking Bureau Deputy Director-General Huang Kuang-hsi (黃光熙) told a news conference in New Taipei City. The bank based its AML policies on those of its US-based parent company, Citigroup Inc, but the policies