Imagine roaring into space, the earth falling away as your ship breaks the grip of gravity. You float, weightless, inside the cabin besides your fellow passengers. Moving over to the viewing window you see the blue-green, cloud-marked surface of the planet that has been your home for all these years spinning slowly below.
The idea of space travel has tantalized generations of moviegoers and readers, permeating every part of our creative consciousness. Some of the biggest properties in modern film and culture are saturated with wonderous speculation about what it might be like. Now, for the first time, technology and investment across the world is turning the dream into reality. New possibilities not just for travel into space, but for a whole realm of exciting and unique experiences outside of the atmosphere are just over the horizon. The chance to become the hero of your very own sci-fi story may happen sooner than you think, allowing more people than ever to feel the thrill of zero gravity and view the earth from above.
The Russian space program has been offering high-price joy rides into space for years, and a time is coming when exciting voyages out of the earth’s atmosphere will be a reality for more than just the uber-rich. Although it may sound farfetched to some, its plausible enough for a host of companies across the globe to be investing money in development with the support of big-time investors.
Space Escape Frontiers
British entrepreneur Richard Branson is backing Virgin Galactic, which completed a test of its VSS Unity spacecraft on January 11. Branson’s ambitious goal is a successful space trip by April 2018. The Virgin program is based on proven technology from Virgin’s partner, Scaled Composites, the first private organization to launch a man into low orbit during flights in 2003. Much more than travel, this service offers an experience. It is entertainment, the ultimate joy-ride out of the earth’s atmosphere. It won’t exactly be cheap. Current prices for a Virgin Galactic ticket are around $250,000. Even with such a hefty price tag, more than 600 people have already paid their deposit, showing that there is a market to be tapped.
Elon Musk’s Space X and global aerospace giant Boeing are cooperating with NASA to shuttle astronauts to the International Space Station in November and December 2018. Taking NASA astronauts to the ISS is a key step on the road to commercial space-travel, allowing these companies to show the market that their products work. Space X has already announced plans to take two travelers on a trip around the moon. This holds out the possibility of commercial voyages not only into space, but to other planetary bodies as well.
As if there weren’t already enough billionaires involved in this commercial space-race, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is backing a Seattle-based company called Blue Origin. Their ‘New Shepard’ capsule has room for six passengers, letting them gaze out of the largest window in the history of space flight down at the earth below before returning safely back home.
All these companies envisage space travel around orbiting people in a single trip, while taking in the majestic views from above. Others are exploring more long-term possibilities. One example is Bigelow Aerospace, a company building small orbital habitats. These would let people spend more time up in the void, drinking in the views, experiencing weightlessness, observing the stars and watching the earth turn. These habitat pods are designed to operate at lower orbits, making them easier to reach while reducing cost, leading to a more affordable experience. The first Bigelow prototype has been attached successfully to the international space station since 2016, and the company plans to deploy their next-generation standalone model in 2020. Founder Robert Bigelow made his fortune in the hotel business, and now wants to combine his aerospace aspirations and his hospitality expertise, envisaging a series of his 55-foot capsules networked to form the very first orbital hotel. Other companies like Axiom and NanoRacks are rapidly developing their own technology to build in-orbit structures and facilities. It is this kind of competition that might propel space travel, and all the experiences it can bring into reality.
The commercial space-race is on. You might not be able to book your own ticket out of the atmosphere this year, or maybe even the next, but the time is rapidly approaching when you will be able to turn an entertainment dream into a travel reality. For a fee, of course.
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