Planes, Trains and …… Spacecraft?

At one time only a select few people had the privilege of going into space.  It required extensive training and you had to be either an astronaut or a cosmonaut.  In the years following that, the Russian Government sought to capture more revenue and allowed private people to fund their own way into space using existing Russian technology.  The Russians would actually take people in their rockets and allow them to stay at the MIR space station.  However, these people were by no means tourists.  Rather, they were civilians who were doing research or experiments but were not necessarily astronauts or cosmonauts.  And these people’s voyage into space did not come cheap; there are reports of the costs associated with a Russian trip to space being in the range of $28,000,000.00.  Now, however, we may be upon a new era of space travel.  An era of space tourism!

Since at least 1990, Richard Branson has been working through his company Virgin Galactic to create the possibility of commercial space flights.  It has been reported that to date he has spent over $200,000,000.00 in this investment.  He has created a spaceship that has two pilots and allows six passengers to enter into space.  The company is already taking reservations at $200,000.00 per ticket with a minimum of $20,000.00 held as a deposit.  In fact, you can book your reservation at www.virgingalactic.com/booking.  Of course, Virgin Galactic also offers a special package to those who are willing to spend a meagre $1,000,000.00 to reserve an exclusive space flight for them and five friends.

In addition to Virgin Galactic there is also a company called XCOR Aerospace.  XCOR is another commercial space travel agency created in 1999 that hopes to offer up to four flights a day, six days out of the week.  Flights with XCOR depart from Texas.

While the prospect of entering into space seems like it would top any person’s bucket list, there are, like with everything it seems, a few catches.  Both the Virgin Galactic and the XCOR Aerospace flights will not travel into “true” earth orbit.  In other words, an orbit like we see in NASA videos.  Rather, these flights travel to sub orbit and provide only about five minutes of weightlessness.  XCOR’s space travellers are unable to float around in the cabin like we see in many of the space films.  That said, XCOR is slightly cheaper than Virgin Galactic, offering tickets at $95,000.00 a piece.

Are we entering into a new era of travel and transportation?  Will space travel become just a “vacation of a lifetime” versus an extraordinary privilege afforded only to a few billionaires and elite scientists?  Certainly 100 years ago a trip to Hawaii would have been a vacation for only the most rich and famous.  We all know that with the advent of commercial airlines and booms in the tourism industry that once prohibitive costs and distances were significant reduced, allowing many average people the opportunity to go to exotic destinations.  Perhaps in the future, space travel and space vacations will become something that is not so farfetched.  Other industries may follow suit and climb on board with the idea.  Other nations may begin their own space tourism industry.  Perhaps a privately owned space station, akin to the International Space Station, will one day be put into orbit and people may be able to book reservations at a hotel there.  Maybe there will be package deals on a round-trip flight to the space hotel aboard Virgin Galactic or XCOR or some other shuttles? Perhaps earth to space travel reaches a critical mass where a number of different shuttles bringing the private citizens back and forth to space causes a new phenomenon only ever portrayed in science fiction movies: space traffic.  It’s not so farfetched when we think about how it was only last century that air-traffic control and aviation rules had to be uniformly adopted.   Therefore, will the Governments of Earth have to create and adopt a uniformed space travel/traffic guideline?  Might there even be shuttle accidents in space?  Aggressive shuttle drivers and ‘space rage’?  Stranded space shuttles that require towing or an emergency rescue mission?  Space truly seems at this time like the final frontier, but with the direction of Virgin Galactic and other privately owned space travel companies seems to be going, it looks like humanity is slowly opening up the borders to the frontier.

Christopher Dawson

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