You can name every episode of Star Trek. You used to get up at the crack of dawn so you wouldn’t miss a shuttle launch. You went to Florida, but skipped Disney World in favor of the Kennedy Space Center. You know every word of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.”
In short, you’re a space buff. And while practically every kid at some point wants to be an astronaut when she or he grows up, the reality is that few of us will even be in a position to apply to NASA, let alone be selected for spaceflight. (But if you want to try, see How can you become an astronaut?)
So we’re grounded. Stuck stargazing. Or are we?
Want to go to space?
The good news is, you don’t have to be one of the lucky ones selected by NASA to ride a rocket into space. The bad news is, it’s not cheap, no matter how you go about it. Here are some options for getting out of this world.
Space Adventures is the original “space tourist” company (they now prefer the term “Spaceflight Participant”), first enjoying fame by launching Dennis Tito into orbit, where he spent seven days on the International Space Station in 2001 — who paid a cool $20 million US for the roundtrip ticket on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Since then, they have launched 6 more tourists to orbit — with Microsoft executive Charles Simonyi becoming their first repeat customer, flying in both 2007 and 2009. The bill came to a tidy $35 million in September/October 2009.
While the sticker price may be a bit of an issue for those of us working stiffs, it’s worth noting that Space Adventures’ clients train for several hundred hours in Star City, Russia’s cosmonaut training center, so make sure you have a lot of vacation time saved up.
While not offering a full orbital flight, Virgin Galactic is selling seats for suborbital hops to 360,000 feet aboard SpaceShip Two, where passengers will experience roughly six minutes of weightlessness during the two hour flights.
Why 360,000 feet? The internationally-defined boundary between earth and space is 100 km, and 360k feet works out to 109.73 km. So while you won’t make a complete circle around the earth, you absolutely will make it to space.
If you want to sign up, you need to pay the full $250,000 price up front. (About 700 people have already done so.) On the application, Virgin Galactic asks not just for money, but have other required fields with questions such as, “Which element of membership most excites you?” and “What do you hope to bring to the community?”
And who knows, you might sit next to Stephen Hawking, Tom Hanks, Katy Perry, Ashton Kutcher or Brad Pitt — just a few of the notable people who are said to have already submitted their deposits.
While Virgin Galactic hasn’t yet set a definite date for the first flights, SpaceShipTwo craft VSS Enterprise completed 54 of test flights — but the 55th, in October 2014, ended in the destruction of the ship and the death of its pilot. As of May 2015, the company was working on a new version of SpaceShipTwo.
In many ways, SpaceX is blazing the trail for commercial space flight. They’ve launched a number of payloads to orbit using their own rocket systems and in May of 2012 made history when their Dragon spacecraft became the first commercial vehicle in history to dock with the International Space Station.
While Dragon is not yet certified for human flight, they anticipate this will happen within the next three years — and will become the first truly commercial enterprise sending humans into orbit. As their site says, “Under an agreement with NASA, SpaceX is now developing the refinements that will enable Dragon to fly crew.”
If you’re truly patient and don’t mind not being able to see much, taking a flight with Celestis is also an option — it’s a one-way ticket, however.
You see, they’re in the business of launching human remains into space. You read that right.
If you remember to put this one down in your will, you can have some of your earthly remains shot into space for as little as $1,295 (as of May 2015) for a flight that returns to earth, $4,995 for earth orbit, $12,500 for the moon, or $12,500 to be flung into deep space. Your loved ones will be able to witness the launch as you are committed to the darkness of space.
You’ll be in good company if you choose this option — notable folks ‘buried’ in space include Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and Scotty himself, James Doohan, original Mercury Seven astronaut Gordon Cooper, and LSD guru Timothy Leary.
The final frontier
So, while you can’t exactly go on Expedia and book your next space flight yet, slipping the surly bonds of earth is certainly within reach — if you have the cash. And it’s even more affordable if you don’t mind being dead when you make the trip.
“Rocket Man” by Elton John (1972)
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