In Baltimore, Maryland, 600 future astronauts from 60 countries have started training for their first flight to space. They are not professional astronauts, but part of Virgin Galactic’s first group of paying tourists ready to explore the next frontier in tourism — space.
The company wants to make space travel commercially viable in the near future, CGTN.com reported. For now, each passenger is paying an eye-watering US$250,000 for a 90-minute flight. It will allow those on board to experience zero gravity and see Earth from space.
Just a little under 60 years ago, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to journey into space during the Space Race. Fast forward to today, there is another space race, but between private companies eager to tap into space tourism.
Virgin Galactic, owned by British billionaire Richard Branson and former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, is currently leading the race in space tourism.
Earlier this month, he listed his space travel company on the New York Stock Exchange. And more recently, it announced that Boeing, the US airplane maker, will invest US$20 million into the company.
The first group of customers came to Baltimore to train at Under Armour Global HQ, where they were fitted for their spaceflight garments and completed a number of preparation activities, including nutrition and fitness counseling, Asgardia.space reported.
The future astronauts will get to walk away with their spacesuits as keepsakes after the flight.
The instructors who lead the preparation courses — Beth Moses and Dave Mackay — are those who were on Virgin Galactic’s demonstration test flight in February 2019, sharing insights based on actual experience.
Although Virgin Galactic’s future astronauts are not subject to health and fitness requirements for NASA astronauts, Virgin Galactic is still conducting medical consultations with each customer to ensure that it is safe for them to engage in the spaceflight.
Amazon and Tesla are also trying to get a slice of this space cake.
Blue Origin, founded by Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, is gearing up for its first flight next year, according to CEO Bob Smith in an interview with CNBC. And a ticket will be pegged at hundreds and thousands of dollars. “We’re going to start at a high price point and go down from there,” Smith continued.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has a far more ambitious plan in the pipeline. Besides space tourism and providing reusable capsules for NASA, the eccentric entrepreneur’s grand plans include helping humanity become a multi-planet species.
These space tours are not just for the bottom line, however, they will also contribute to research as well, said one expert.
“You pay the money to go to space, but by doing this you also pay for science and research,” said Marianna Sigala, professor in Tourism and Director of the Center of Tourism & Leisure Management at the University of South Australia Business School, to CGTN Digital.
“Because when the mission goes to space, it’s not just the tourists going there. There are many scientists that will follow the spaceship, and their purpose there is to collect data and help research.”
“They are exploiting the tourist industry to finance research,” Sigala added.
This first step into space tourism could also have a multiplier effect on other industries. And countries are already jostling to be the first in becoming a space hub, so this multiplier effect can be seen in other industries.
Sending people into space requires massive specialized infrastructure, special diets, training and tailored spacesuits among other things, said Sigala.
“There are many different expertises and professions and industries involved around space tourism, the development of it is going to give a lot of jobs and a lot of economic development in the region,” Sigala explained.
Collectively, these space tours are forming a body of research that will eventually enable humans to live on other planets. “This has been the purpose for centuries. We know whatever exists there in terms of resources, of land. And humanity is continuing to explore other planets to source materials to have another planet to live because the population here is becoming too large,” she remarked.
For now, humanity’s space dream is only available to those with deep pockets. But as these flights increase, and the technology is sharpened, more might be up for some space adventures.