How long will it be before our vacations are out of this world?
The billionaires have had their high-profile moments in space. They’ve brought along some famous guests, notably Capt. Kirk himself, William Shatner. But so far, there have only been a few dozen space tourists. Over the next few years, however, space tourism is primed to take off. There are several more private spaceships in the works, along with some space hotels. The idea of vacationing in space might truly take hold over the next decade or two. As of now, it’s prohibitively expensive for all but the wealthiest. But might mass space tourism be a reality this century?
Richard Branson dreams of space tourism being accessible to all. A few years ago, he was hopeful the cost of a space flight could be down to $30,000 per person. That’s clearly not cheap, but it’s a lot lower than a ride on Branson’s Virgin Galactic currently costs. Pre-order tickets began at $250,000 before Virgin Galactic ever made a fully crewed space flight. Since Branson joined in on that first fully crewed flight in July 2021, Virgin Galactic’s prices have gone up to $450,000 per person to go 50 miles above Earth. Branson has noted that other frontiers such as transatlantic travel were once only accessible to the super-rich before innovation and scaling brought those costs way down.
Virgin Galactic has about 600 people signed up for future flights, and has plans for two to three flights per month between VSS Unity and VSS Imagine beginning this year. A new crop of spaceships set to debut in 2026 should be able to make the trip once a week. That’s only the beginning in Branson’s vision.
“We’ve got an enormous waiting list of people who want to go to space,” he said. “I think 20 years from now, a spaceship will have reached Mars and that we may be involved in a moon project. I think that some kind of living habitat will have been formed on the moon and that companies like Boeing will be involved in it. I think one day there will be a hotel just off the moon, with pods, where you can see back to Earth, and little two-seat spaceships, where you can travel around the moon and come back to the hotel at night.”
Believe it or not, Virgin Galactic is the most affordable option currently. Prices for spots on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are not public, but they’ve reportedly gone for more than $1 million per person. Blue Origin goes 62 miles above Earth, the internationally recognized boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. We don’t know how much it cost four people to hitch a ride on SpaceX’s Dragon capsule in September 2021, but considering they spent three days in orbit, it was surely more than the cost of a few minutes of space flight. Axiom Space charged $55 million per person for a trip to and stay at the International Space Station by way of a SpaceX rocket last April.
That’s a pretty penny, obviously, but space tourism as a commercial possibility did not even exist 20 years ago. Back then it cost $20 million per person to send astronauts to the ISS on a Soyuz spacecraft. The massive influx of private investment should bring scalability.
Soon, a few minutes in a spaceship or a stay on the ISS might not be the only options. Axiom is already assembling what will be a private space station. Orbital Assembly hopes to be operating a space hotel by 2030, and maybe even by 2025, though a long weekend will set you back about $5 million initially.
It is possible, if expensive, to buy a ticket to space. It might soon be possible to book a room there. Those were both completely unheard of at the turn of this century.
Closer to Home
If you can’t quite afford a trip to outer space just yet, that doesn’t mean space tourism is an impossibility. There are other options that will take you to 100,000 feet, more than twice as high as a commercial airplane. It’s not outer space, but it is high enough to see the curvature of the Earth and be in awe at a new perspective on our home planet.
Shell out $125,000 and you can grab a 2025 spot on a six-hour Space Perspective that includes a meal, cocktails, and much more personal space than on a cramped capsule. Tucson-based World View requires only a $500 deposit to secure a spot on a $50,000 journey of six to eight hours. It will also include in-flight dining and bar service, boasting the chance to see the Seven Wonders of the World, Stratospheric Edition, and the darkness of space.
“We’re trying to deliver this to as many people as possible. … Means we have to make this as affordable as possible,” World View CEO Ryan Hartman told Business Insider. “I’m thinking about the Gen Z or the millennial who values experiences more than they value things. They’ll figure out their own way to make $50,000 work.”
The more companies that jump into the space tourism race, the more competition there will be, which should eventually drop prices. We don’t know how soon that might scale to make space tourism affordable, but as Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said after that fateful 2021 flight, each subsequent journey helps “open the door for greater access to space – so it can be for the many and not just for the few.”