You would, wouldn’t you. If you could get a cast-iron guarantee that you’d come back in one piece, you’d happily step aboard a rocket and see what it’s like to go to space. Once safety’s taken care of, the only other major stumbling block would be the fee. It’s the ultimate $64,000 question (actually probably more than a $64,000 question): just how deep would you dig into your pockets to get there?
To help you gauge the likelihood of whether or not this is something that you genuinely have to grapple with over the coming years, we’ve come up with a sliding scale of what you need to pay for a little slice of the Buzz Lightyear experience…
This article was first published on July 21, 2017.
If you’d been more proactive (and extremely lucky), you could have been one of the applicants shortlisted for Mars One, a Netherlands-based venture that aims to put four people on Mars by 2031. Unfortunately, their free tickets are one-way only as the ambitious non-profit behind this mission aims to establish a colony on the red planet, but by missing out you at least won’t have to spend months in a spacecraft throwing furtive glances at members of the opposite sex and wondering if they’re the one for you. Next best thing? The ISS HD Live app, which gives you an International Space Station-eye-view of Earth in real time.
American company ZERO G has a Boeing 727 that will give you what’s probably the most affordable of all space-like experiences, even though you don’t actually enter space at all. Instead, the aircraft – cheerily known as the “vomit comet” – has a big open space in its belly which you can bounce around in when the plan drops like a stone. When it does, you get to experience zero-gravity on a series of what’s known as parabolic manoeuvres. The experience costs $4,995 for about 15 of these 20-30 second stomach-churners, or you can charter the whole plane and take 33 buddies with you for $165,000. Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking had a go and said it was “amazing.”
The exact point at which space begins is a hotly debated issue. There is something called the Karman line, which is 100km above sea level, and many wise men perceive the crossing of this to be the moment you exit the Earth. Others reckon it’s further out than that, though NASA deems anyone who has been more than 80km from the Earth to be an astronaut. Whichever way you look at it, daredevil Austrian Felix Baumgartner was most definitely not in space when he made his famous Red Bull Stratos skydive in 2012. Baumgartner was at an altitude of 39km when he jumped from his hot-air balloon, but what what was clear from the images beamed around the world was that this is plenty high enough to feel like you’re in space; the curvature of the earth and the blackness of the skies above were both readily apparent. While Baumgartner needed a special suit to save him from all manner of problems that would be caused by both air pressure and extreme cold, an American company named World View Enterprises hopes to offer the same kind of view within two years, but from within the comfort of a sealed gondola. “You’ll be safely and securely sailing at the very threshold of the heavens, skimming the edge of space,” they write of their proposed $75,000-a-head balloon adventure. Spanish company Zero 2 Infinity hopes to offer a rival service for a reputed price tag of around $120,000 by 2018.
Although he’s not yet selling tickets and public flights are still a couple of years away, $100,000 has been mentioned several times as the possible entry fee for a ride on Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ New Shepard. For some time now, the American has been selling off a billion dollars of stock every year to fund his space company Blue Origin, one arm of which is focused on space tourism, and New Shepard is his six-passenger, 15 cubic metre capsule that will be controlled by computers and will cruise to an altitude of around 100km. Four minutes of weightlessness promise to be the main attraction, although those views are not to be sniffed at either: American astronaut Scott Parazynski told Friday a couple of years ago that when he spent time in space, “whether you’re there for two weeks or two months, looking out the window is the ultimate treat.”
Japanese firm PD Aerospace are working on a craft that is promising a similar experience to Bezos, but they appear to be some way behind the pack in terms of development. Initial testing, in fact, is not due to begin until 2020 – and it will be at least three years after that before they plan on taking paying space tourists. Impressively, however, their CEO Shuji Ogawa told CNBC in December that they hoped that the price of a ticket may one day tumble from around $125,000 to under $4,000. “We want to offer space tours to ordinary people,” he said.
Richard Branson has sold a reported 700 tickets at this price (though the odd freebie to special pals like Stephen Hawking seems to have been forthcoming, too), and while people have been talking about his Virgin Galactic company making it to space for over a decade, it does finally seem that the ebullient Brit is almost there. Branson is determined to be the first to offer commercial space-flight to the masses, and despite multiple set-backs – including the tragic death of one of his test pilots in 2014 – Branson hinted last year that 2018 was looking to be the year when his first passengers would leave Earth. He is promising a once-in-a-lifetime experience in which six passengers will join two pilots in a craft named SpaceShipTwo, which has just enjoyed its third successful glide flight test above the Mojave Desert.
This is the price that American billionaire Dennis Tito paid in 2001 when he became the world’s first paying space tourist. The fee was paid to a US company named Space Adventures and, with more than a little help from the Russian Soyuz space programme, was good enough for the wealthy businessman to spend six days on the ISS. At least another six people have followed suit in the years that have followed, each thought to have paid a similar amount. Space Adventurers are still offering trips to the ISS, during which you will complete full orbits of the Earth every 90 minutes from a height of around 400km. If you have another $15m spare, you can take a 90-minute space-walk – one of those tethered-to-a-lifeline experiences where you step out of the ISS and become one of an even more elite band of astronauts. The fee also buys you an additional eight days on the ISS. “There is risk involved in going outside, but if you’re going to sign up for that and accept the risk, then fine,” three-time spacewalker Tom Jones told Space.com.
Next year, Elon Musk – the third billionaire player alongside Bezos and Branson in the new space race – is promising to take two as-yet-unidentified paying tourists on a lap of the moon. Musk owns a company named SpaceX, which is already doing tons of donkey-work for NASA and is even planning to take their astronauts to the ISS very soon. The one-off round-the-moon journey will make use of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket and Dragon 2 capsule, and will last for about a week. What’s particularly important about the flight is that it may take the two tourists 450,000 – 650,000 km away from Earth, which would mean they have travelled further away from their home planet than any other human in existence. The price is rumoured to be around $70m, and one adventurous pair have reportedly paid a hefty deposit.
Within five years, Mr Musk thinks the first of a series of SpaceX rockets that he plans to take to Mars may start its long journey. The trip will likely take six to nine months and the optimistic souls on board might need to pay as much as $10bn to cover their costs. It all sounds slightly ludicrous, of course, and indeed many people do think that the Tesla Motors co-founder’s Martian dreams will never get off the ground (no pun intended), but Dr Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society (an organisation committed to putting man on Mars), once told Friday that he thinks Musk has the best chance of pulling it off. “He’s going to face institutional challenges,” Zubrin said, “because there are opponents with powerful political allies that could potentially snuff him out. But Musk is on the march.” Musk’s long-term goal is to create a million-strong colony of humans on Mars, and the South African-born entrepreneur reckons that it would take between 40 and 100 years to get that many people there. The future of mankind, he says, is at stake: “I think there are really two fundamental paths,” said Musk last year. “One path is we stay on Earth forever, and then there will be some eventual extinction event. The alternative is to become a space-bearing civilisation and a multi-planetary species, which I hope you would agree is the right way to go.” If you do, dig deep – or if the pockets don’t quite stretch to $10bn you could always wait, as the price could one day tumble to as low as $100,000 per person. For many of us, however, there is little chance of this actually happening in our lifetimes.