Space tourism refers to the concept of traveling to space for recreational, leisure or business purposes. It involves paying a fee to travel to space, typically in a spacecraft designed for this purpose. Space tourism can involve suborbital flights that allow passengers to experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth, or orbital flights that allow passengers to stay in space for a longer period and potentially visit the International Space Station (ISS) or other destinations.
The idea of space tourism has been around for several decades, but it has become more feasible in recent years due to advancements in technology and the commercial space industry. Companies such as Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX are among the pioneers in developing spacecraft for space tourism. While still in its early stages, space tourism has the potential to become a significant industry, offering people the opportunity to experience space travel and potentially opening up new avenues for scientific research and exploration.
The following are some of the major milestones in the history of space tourism:
- 2001: American entrepreneur Dennis Tito becomes the first self-funded space tourist, paying an estimated $20 million to ride a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS.
- 2004: The Ansari X Prize is awarded to the first privately-funded team to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. The winning team, SpaceShipOne, was funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and designed by aerospace engineer Burt Rutan.
- 2005: The first privately-funded space tourism company, Virgin Galactic, is founded by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. The company plans to offer suborbital flights for paying customers.
- 2006: Anousheh Ansari becomes the first female space tourist, paying an estimated $20 million to travel to the ISS on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
- 2009: Sir Richard Branson unveils the first Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, which is designed to take passengers on suborbital spaceflights.
- 2018: SpaceX announces that it has signed its first customer, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, for a trip around the Moon aboard the company’s yet-to-be-built Starship spacecraft.
- 2019: Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo successfully reaches an altitude of 82.7 kilometers (51.4 miles) above the Earth, which is recognized by the US Air Force as the boundary of space.
- 2021: Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos both ride their respective companies’ suborbital spacecraft on high-profile flights, marking the first time that space tourism has been available to the general public.
- 2021: SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission was the World’s first all-civilian orbital flight. Four private individuals, none of whom were professional astronauts, flew to orbit aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.
- 2022: Axiom Space’s AX1 mission was the first privately-funded mission to the ISS. Four private individuals spent 15 days living and working in the ISS.
These are just a few of the many milestones in the history of space tourism, and it’s likely that many more will be reached in the coming years and decades as the industry continues to evolve.