In July 1969, we were on the precipice of an unknown universe. It was then that a team of visionaries sent a man to the moon, and humankind was forever changed. Since then, less than 600 people have explored the vast frontiers of space. And the majority of those people were astronauts, not ordinary citizens. But a few companies seek to change all that and to revolutionize the world of private spaceflight, offering ordinary citizens an extraordinary experience.
By Michelle Breeze
Just as Jeff Bezos imagined a company that would be Amazonian in nature, he also envisioned bringing space travel to the masses. And he’s done it with his company Blue Origin. Blue Origin’s creation, New Shepard, is a six-seater vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) space vehicle, designed and tested by leading engineers and technicians, with decades of spacecraft experience. And it’s currently being readied for private spaceflight.
If this sounds like the perfect mini-vacation, the New Shepard will launch you into space at Mach 3 as it crosses the Kármán Line into space. After several minutes, the engines will cut off, the capsule and booster will separate, and the booster will float softly back to Earth, to be used again and again for future flights. When the capsule and the booster separate, you and five other extremely adventurous people will be free to float about the cabin and see firsthand the gloriousness of Earth from space.
One of the most majestic features of the New Shepard is the windows. Crystal clear and taking up nearly 30% of the capsule, the windows provide unfettered access to a view that’s literally out of this world. After spending enough time for everyone to video, photograph, and capture unprecedented memories, citizen astronauts will strap back in and plummet at 5Gs back to Earth to make a soft landing a couple of miles from the launchpad.
62 miles up, in the very thin air, is the Kármán line, that invisible delineation between Earth and Space. And for around $250,000, you and six other space junkies, can be among the first to fly on one of Virgin Galactic’s spaceships, WhiteKnightTwo with SpaceShipTwo. Thus far, nearly 1000 eager people have joined the line to climb onboard and earn their astronaut wings, on a long-awaited journey to the great unknown.
Before you fly, you and your fellow astronauts will spend several days at Spaceport America training center. On the day of flight, you’ll strap into your custom seat and prepare for take-off. Virgin Galactic pilots will then accelerate to nearly three and a half times the speed of sound and soar to an altitude of approximately 50,000 feet. The pilots will then shut down the rockets, and you and your teammates will coast towards space in utter silence and weightlessness. There are 12 large cabin windows from which to view the Earth, plus an unencumbered view of the inky darkness of space.
After a few scant minutes, the descent back to Earth will begin, and you’ll enjoy a quick reentry to our not-so-distant planet. SpaceShipTwo will then fly back to the runway where it started for a smooth landing on terra firma. You and your newly minted Virgin Galactic astronauts will then celebrate your experience with family, friends, and other Virgin Galactic alumni.
Virgin Galactic unveiled the second SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity in 2016. Created by Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing arm, Th e Spaceship Company, the VSS Unity is currently being tested for commercial flight within the next two years.
Space Adventures has created a menu of experiences that are both affordable and varied. For citizens that are interested in the far reaches of space, they off er the moon, and for those that don’t want to leave this planet, experiencing zero gravity is enough.
On this mission, two citizen astronauts will fly with a Russian cosmonaut to the far side of the moon, coming within 100km of the moon’s surface. On the Circumlunar mission, you’ll witness Earth rising above the moon, a sight that only a handful of people have ever experienced.
The International Space Station is the only outpost that is continually manned. If you choose this adventure, you’ll live side-by-side for 10 days with professional astronauts and cosmonauts, circling Earth every 90 minutes. Traveling almost 18,000 miles per hour, 250 miles above Earth on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, this experience should top the bucket list of any would-be space pioneer.
Ever imagined a walk in space? For this mission, you’ll spend several weeks training in Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Moscow, then spend 16 instead of 10 days at the International Space Station. Towards the end of your space-cation, you’ll take your spacewalk (accompanied by a Russian cosmonaut), outside the safety of the Space Station. Your carefully prepared exit and reentry will be closely monitored for a successful journey.
Zero Gravity Flight
Climb aboard the Boeing 727-200, G-FORCE ONE™ and perform all the acrobatics of a gymnast while weightless. Th e ZERO-G Experience is designed for passengers to do flips, fl oat and soar in a space-like environment. Th e G-FORCE ONE™is modified to allow the pilots to perform aerobatic maneuvers called parabolas that when performed perfectly create a zero-gravity environment for its passengers. During the flight, the pilots will execute approximately 15 of these exercises, giving passengers ample time to enjoy their weightless environment. At around $5000, the cost to fl y is comparatively inexpensive with ongoing flights in four cities around the country.
World View Enterprises
Take a two-hour trip in a high-altitude balloon that hovers around 20 miles above Earth, floating quietly between the blackness of space and the curve of Earth. Founded by astronaut Mark Kelly, World View Enterprises offers passenger balloon rides complete with comfortable sitting areas, Wi-Fi, and a bar. Th e Voyage uses parafoil balloons to make its ascent into the heavens, floating gently into the cosmos, 100,000 feet into the atmosphere. There’s no training involved to become a Voyager, and the balloon has decades of research and safety standards supporting its flight. The entire experience lasts approximately six hours, and your final destination upon your return to Earth can be as many as 300 miles from where you started. At $75,000 a pop, the World View experience expects to lift-off from Spaceport Tucson at some point during 2018.