Space Tourism: The Final Frontier

21st February 2014
Pól Ó Conghaile

It’s travel Jim, but not as we know it.

Since the dawn of space flights, civilians have dreamed of following astronauts through earth’s atmosphere. Several events have given space tourism a whole new momentum, however – including the exploits of Commander Chris “I’ve been around the world 2,600 times” Hadfield, multiple Oscar nominations for Gravity – the space disaster movie starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock – and the not-too-distant prospect of manned flights to Mars.

Will space tourism become a reality? It’s a question of when, not if.

More than a decade since Denis Tito became the first civilian to hitch a ride into space, Virgin Galactic says it is on course to start commercial flights from the New Mexico desert this year. This January, it completed the third rocket-powered supersonic flight of its passenger vehicle, SpaceShip Two.

SpaceShipTwo Second  Powered Flight PF03 January 10, 2014

“We focused on gathering more transonic and supersonic data, and our chief pilot, Dave, handled the vehicle [pictured above] beautifully,” said CEO George Whitseides. “With each flight test, we are progressively closer to our target of starting commercial service in 2014.”

virgin galactic

So what will flights onboard the world’s first commercial spaceflights feel like?

After medical assessments and G-Force acclimatisation, ‘astronauts’ will piggyback the jet carrier ‘mothership’ (pictured below) to 50,000ft. Released from the mothership, SpaceShip Two will climb to over 360,000 feet. When the rocket motor is switched off, the aim is to experience zero-gravity, the absolute silence of space, and a unique perspective on planet Earth.

space tourism

Several hundred people have already forked out $250,000 to book their place in space.

I’d like to join them, but somehow, think I’ll have to wait.