Which Space Tourist Flight Is Right for You?

Which Space Tourist Flight Is Right for You?
Artist's interpretation of the SpaceX Inspiration4 mission. (Image: Inspiration4)

Are you ready to ditch Earth for the cold blackness of space? Look no further, because there’s a space vacation on tap for you. We’ve considered all possible factors — price, safety, photo opportunities, prestige, and thrill level — to help you determine which of the many space tourist offerings are appropriate for your needs.

For the time-pressed space tourist

William Shatner and the Blue Origin NS-18 crew, which flew to space on October 13, 2021. (Photo: Blue Origin)William Shatner and the Blue Origin NS-18 crew, which flew to space on October 13, 2021. (Photo: Blue Origin)

Look, we get it — no one likes to waste time. And as experience tells us, those impromptu weekend getaways often make for the best vacations. Thankfully, Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos has a solution for space tourists who crave spectacular experiences but are in a rush to get things done.

The New Shepard rocket in flight.  (Photo: Blue Origin)The New Shepard rocket in flight. (Photo: Blue Origin)

We’re talking about a quick flight to beyond the Kármán line in a Blue Origin New Shepard rocket. The trip lasts for just 10 minutes, one of which is spent floating in precious zero gravity. Following a parachute-assisted landing in the West Texas desert, you can quickly exit the craft as a newly minted astronaut (well, almost) and get on with your life. As for the cost, we don’t actually know, as Blue Origin tends to be tight-lipped about these things. That said, a New Shepard ticket did sell for $US28 ($39) million at auction in June 2021, so there’s that to consider.

For the thrill seeker

The Inspiration4 crew aboard the Resilience Crew Dragon capsule.  (Image: Inspiration4)The Inspiration4 crew aboard the Resilience Crew Dragon capsule. (Image: Inspiration4)

If you want an extreme space experience and you also happen to have exceptionally deep pockets, you should consider contacting SpaceX. For the price of $US50 ($69) million, you can venture to an altitude of 364 miles (585 km) inside a Crew Dragon capsule. That’s farther away from Earth than the ISS and even the Hubble Space Telescope, and it’s the height reached by the SpaceX Inspiration4 mission, which launched in September 2021.

At that distance, the view of Earth should be grand, especially when seen from the Resilience Crew Dragon cupola. This vacation lasts for three days, and it ends with a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. Oh, and in case you’re worried, SpaceX is claiming to have fixed its malfunctioning toilet.

Best bang for your buck

Richard Branson experiencing weightlessness during his trip to space on July 11, 2021. (Photo: Virgin Galactic)Richard Branson experiencing weightlessness during his trip to space on July 11, 2021. (Photo: Virgin Galactic)

OK, you’re not a billionaire. No shame in that — you can still vacation like one thanks to Virgin Galactic. A suborbital trip aboard Richard Branson’s spaceplane costs $US450,000 ($624,690) per seat, and it gets the job done, without having to endure a jarring rocket launch from the surface.

VSS Unity during flight.  (Photo: Virgin Galactic)VSS Unity during flight. (Photo: Virgin Galactic)

Indeed, riding in SpaceShipTwo, you’ll travel to an altitude of around 53 miles (86 km) above sea level, which some people will tell you is “space.” This suborbital flight offers a brief moment in microgravity and a smooth runway landing back on the surface. The whole thing should take around 90 minutes. A word of warning, however: Virgin Galactic pilots are known for blowing past warning lights and flying outside of federally mandated airspace, so there is a definite thrill-seeking element to this offering.

For the super nerd

Axiom Space Ax-1 mission specialist Eytan Stibbe performing research on the ISS.  (Photo: Axiom Space)Axiom Space Ax-1 mission specialist Eytan Stibbe performing research on the ISS. (Photo: Axiom Space)

Space is great, but aimlessly floating around a capsule gets boring real quick, and there’s only so many ways to say “oooh” and “aaaah” when looking out from a cupola. Us workaholics need constant mental stimulation and a sense of purpose, which is why a trip to the ISS with help from Axiom Space is the right option for you.

For $US55 ($76) million, you can spend an entire week aboard the space station running various science experiments, including tests to study the effects of microgravity on ageing and heart health. You could even wear this funky EEG-enabled space helmet to learn how much your brain has shrunk while floating out there in low Earth orbit. Indeed, you won’t ever be the same again.

On a budget?

Conceptual view of the Space Perspective stratospheric balloon.  (Image: Space Perspective)Conceptual view of the Space Perspective stratospheric balloon. (Image: Space Perspective)

If you’re really a cheapskate, consider purchasing a balloon ride to the “edge” of space. And by edge we mean a third of the way there. Balloons can’t actually go into space (duh), otherwise our ancestors would’ve floated past the magnetosphere during the Napoleonic era. But balloons can go very, very high, possibly to heights reaching 20 miles (30 km) above sea level. From way up there, the blackness of space is clearly visible, as is the curvature of Earth.

Conceptual view of the Space Perspective cabin interior.  (Image: Space Perspective)Conceptual view of the Space Perspective cabin interior. (Image: Space Perspective)

Two startups, Space Perspective and World View, are hoping to send paying customers on balloon rides to the stratosphere, and for a fraction of the cost of actually going to space. Space Perspective is charging $US125,000 ($173,525) for the six-hour trip, and it plans to launch its first ride in 2024, while World View plans to charge $US50 ($69),000 for a similar offering. Space Perspective recently unveiled the interior design of its disingenuously named Spacecraft Neptune, revealing a fully stocked bar, bucket seats, and customised mood lighting.

For that special occasion

Conceptual image of a  Northrop Grumman space station. (Image: Northrop Grumman)Conceptual image of a Northrop Grumman space station. (Image: Northrop Grumman)

You prefer to plan ahead — we like that about you. What’s more, you’re not sold on any of the current space tourist options and you’re convinced that the future will have plenty more to offer. For sure, you want more 2001: A Space Odyssey in your life and less Apollo 13. If you’re willing to wait about 10 years or so, then we have the perfect idea for you: space hotels.

Conceptual image of Axiom Station.  (Image: Axiom Space)Conceptual image of Axiom Station. (Image: Axiom Space)

Axiom Space is planning to build the world’s first all-private space station, which it wants to make available for commercial interests later this decade. That’s a good choice, but other options could start to appear by the early 2030s; NASA has asked three U.S. companies, Blue Origin, Nanoracks, and Northrop Grumman, to develop private space station concepts as well. Space hotels are coming; you’ll just have to be patient and save a few tens of millions of dollars for the likely expense.

For when you’re seriously done with it all

Conceptual image of future Martian city.  (Image: SpaceX)Conceptual image of future Martian city. (Image: SpaceX)

If Earth just isn’t cutting it anymore, maybe Mars will be more your style. Elon Musk is hoping to attract thousands upon thousands of aspiring Martians by the 2050s. Your new life will begin with a six-month journey to the Red Planet. You’ll set up a home on the highly irradiated surface, where your new hobbies will be producing food and water. Rigorous workout routines will help your body stave off the damaging muscular and skeletal effects of lower-than-usual gravity. We can’t wait to get your postcards.