It is all systems go for space tourism, even for those who can’t
afford the $20 million trip to the International Space Station.
A leisurely vacation into the final frontier may have once been
the stuff of science fiction, but proponents say space tourism
today is becoming a reality; and one that isn’t just for
A new industry is taking shape, with new products in development
that are expected to take the concept of space tourism into the
mainstream and set the wheels in motion for the commercialization
Peter Diamandis, a Los Angeles based entrepreneur, has been
behind the drive into space.
Diamandis is a co-founder of Space Adventures, the Arlington,
Va.-based tour operator that launched space tourism alongside
business tycoon Dennis Tito on the first tourist trip to the
International Space Station.
Diamindis also runs Los Angeles-based ZERO-G, a company with a
mission to make space and space-related experiences more accessible
The company hopes to soon launch a program that will allow
customers to experience zero gravity, hence the name. A special
aircraft will be able to simulate the feeling of weightlessness,
for minutes at a time, by running parabolic maneuvers through the
Although sister-company Space Adventures already operates
zero-gravity flights in Russia, ZERO-G is expected to offer new
options in the United States.
“Our aspiration is one of getting people to experience zero
gravity at an affordable price,” Diamandis said. “We want to get
people thinking about it as an experiential sport, like bungee
jumping or sky diving.”
After that, a race is already under way among aerospace
engineers and big-name investors working to design a new aircraft
that would be the first step toward commercialization of space.
Diamandis raised $10 million for a prize, called the X-Prize,
which will be awarded to the first team that builds a sub-orbital
aircraft that takes two crews beyond Earth’s atmosphere twice
within two weeks.
Donors include authors like Tom Clancy and Arthur C. Clarke, as
well as venture capitalists, scientists and philanthropists.
Some 24 teams from around the world are competing for the prize,
some have already completed test flights.
“The technology is already there and has been there for years,”
said ZERO-G spokesman, Ian Murphy. “The only question is can we
make it safe and affordable.”
Diamandis is predicting that the prize will be won within the
year and commercial sub-orbital flights will soon follow, beginning
with barnstorming rides, similar to the early days of aviation when
planes quickly went up and quickly came down.
The first of the commercial sub-orbital flights will cost close
to $100,000 a ride, but as the field develops the price will come
down and sub-orbital aircraft might eventually be used for more
practical purposes, such as commercial aviation. It could also open
up the possibility of more accessible trips into orbit.
“The objective of the X-Prize is to bring about a paradigm shift
in the public’s view of space travel,” Diamandis said. “It’s not
just something for astronauts and millionaires, it should be
something available for everyone.”
For now, space travel is big bucks and Space Adventures is the
only company that has successfully booked orbital trips.
In its most recent enterprise the company is planning the first
mission to the International Space Station just for tourists.
The company recently bought a rocket for the trip and two seats
are available, each going for $20 million.
Already there is a list of close to a dozen contenders who are
interested in taking the flight. The first person approved for the
trip gets to keep the capsule.
“There is a multi-billion-dollar market for space tourism there
today,” said Eric Anderson, CEO of Space Adventures. “There is an
incredible market of people out there wanting to experience
In the meantime, if the price for a trip into space seems out of
this world, Space Adventures also offers more affordable options
including flights aboard a variety of supersonic Russian MiGs.
One option is called the “Edge of Space” flight, which climbs
over 99 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere, to about 85,000 feet,
The company has also started booking sub-orbital flights, even
though a workable aircraft has yet to be developed.
Space Adventures packages the entire trip and the adventure
flights are only part of the experience, according to the
A high-touch VIP treatment is also a part of the package, with
stays in luxury Russian hotels and top-notch wining and dining.
“We aren’t a tour operator,” said Anderson. “We’re an experience
operator. What we offer are life-changing experiences.”