Space travel for the average individual is something some might be dubious about, but slowly it’s becoming a reality. Since Neil Armstrong first landed on the moon with Apollo 11 in 1959, many have wondered what it would be like to stand on the moon’s surface, or even to get a look at the moon from space. It seems these days there are scores of companies vying for your dollars, ready to offer a one-of-a-kind trip into space but in reality there are only two current, legitimate possibilities if you’re looking at securing an orbital flight to space.
Richard Branson wants you to experience “The Dream” via flights into space with his company, Virgin Galactic. He hopes some day soon there will be a great space hotel welcoming his clients for extended stays. Virgin Galactic has been taking deposits for space travel for several years now, asking a mere $20,000 (refundable) deposit to secure a $200,000 launch into earth’s orbit. The trip begins with a jolt - after 3 days of space training - catapulting those aboard more than 2000 miles per hour, first into a blue expanse and then into dark, black space where, looking down, earth appears as a large, familiar map. At this point is an experience unlike any other, one that can only be simulated on earth; the absence of gravity. Virgin Galactic promises a ton of fun inside the Spaceship Two cabin where zero gravity escapades will ensue. It’s not specified how long the space flight lasts or how long it stays in space. Branson’s hope is to be the first-ever space tourism program sending civilians beyond earth’s orbit on a regular basis. Launches are expected to originate from the Mojave Spaceport in California.
Space Adventures is the only other current, viable option for space tourism. Space Adventures has sent a number of elite individuals into space, with stops at the only current space hotel, the International Space Station. These pit stops aren’t offered on Virgin Galactic flights, which essentially fly you to space and back without any stops. Space Adventures (headquartered in Virginia) offers an orbital space flight that includes two weeks aboard the International Space Station with training to precede in Star City, an area in Moscow, at Russia’s Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center. This “relatively affordable” space travel opportunity is one of the most finely tuned experiences available today.
If dropping $200,000 for “relatively affordable” space tourism isn’t an option, there are several ways to enjoy a simulated experience right here on earth. Both the Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center offer a close-up look space travel and the life of an astronaut. The Houston Space Center tour includes two distinct experiences; the NASA Tour and the Level 9 Tour. During the NASA Tour, there is an in-depth look at the Johnson Space Center, mainly astronaut training for those heading to the International Space Station. The Kennedy Space Center in Florida (near Orlando) is another place where space travel can easily be imagined. During the Kennedy Center Space tour, visitors will ride the NASA bus to the LC-39 Observation Gantry where the space shuttle launch pads are located, see a life-like video on the launch of the Apollo 8, and get a look at the Apollo/Saturn V Center where the moon rocket Saturn V is.
There are select companies, like popular Zero-G Corporation, offering individual and group flights aboard a plane that presents a complete zero-gravity environment. This weightless wonder is aboard a Boeing 727 modified to host this special gravity-free environment, where you can float, soar, and flip as if you were actually gravity-free in space. Though pricey, this undertaking is a drop in the bucket compared to bona fide space tourism. Perhaps, one day, everyday tourists will be able to book space flight and a room in a space hotel just like any other vacation.
Image: Mark Greenberg