With the recent flights by Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos to the edge of space we can say the gates of space tourism has begun. It’s not that space tourism has begun in 2021. The seeds of non scientist and non governmental space tourism has begun atleast two decades back but things were just trickling in then. Now with private companies like SpaceX, Virgin Glactic and Blue Origin developing full capabilities for space travel with better technology and less cost, it puts them in better situation to provide space travel at large. There are questions that space travel is not for every one as everyone cannot afford it and that these money should be ploughed in earth for various social causes. Well to begin with space travel cannot be afforded by all but this should allowed as this will open many vistas and horizon in future. Whenever new technologies are out, they are costly to begin with but then with scale and more innovations they become more available and affordable. Space travel in future may lead to travel to moon, mars and beyond. A colony of humans in moon or mars, should we negate these possibilities just by looking inward. We should not limit ourselves as the outward vistas in space provide immense opportunity for human endeavor and growth.
Lets take a look on the first non scientists and non governmental people who had taken to space. In 1984, Charles D. Walker became the first non-government astronaut to fly, with his employer McDonnell Douglas paying US$40,000 (equivalent to $99,641 in 2020) for his flight. The Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) offered to pay for one of its reporters to fly on a mission. Toyohiro Akiyama was flown in 1990 to Mir with the eighth crew and returned a week later with the seventh crew. Cost estimates vary from $10 million up to $37 million. Akiyama gave a daily TV broadcast from orbit and also performed scientific experiments for Russian and Japanese companies. There were some more such efforts which took place. American businessman Dennis Tito probably become the first paid up individual to go to space on board a Russian Soyoz to ISS (International Space Station) for 8 days at a cost of approx $20 million on April 28, 2001. This was followed by South African – British businessman for 10 days to ISS on April 25, 2002, American business men Gregory Olsen etc. But the new space travel era that opened is not much about stay at the ISS, it about a 10 minutes flight to the edge of space where you can see the earth in its entirety and experience weightlessness.
Virgin Galactic has announced the sales of limited tickets this year and asked the public to sign-up if they are interested on your website: https://www.virgingalactic.com/. Though officially no ticket cost is given, it is said the cost of such space flight will cost around $ 200,000 to $ 250,000 per person.
Recently, Blue Origin also completed with first commercial flight with its founder Jeff Bezos. It also said that it had a paid customer in Oliver Daemen who is also the youngest to fly to space. The cost of tickets has not been disclosed by Blue Origin.
Among all the private space flight companies SpaceX is probably most advanced in terms of technology. They already have set of proven rockets to fly to not just space but also beyond. SpaceX has already sent people to space and ISS. They are now also planning to venture to moon and mars. They have already signed an agreement with NASA to send private space tourists to ISS.
As Jeff Bezos said there is a huge demand for such space flights and his ticket sales has almost reached $100 million. Personally, I may not be able to afford it but I still would like this endeavor to grow as this will open news vistas for human race in future. With scale, innovations and competition price may come down in future. Also, such companies may run campaigns for people at large on subsidized rates for a month every year. It would be very interesting to see how the ISRO ( Indian Space Research Organization) responds to the opportunity of space tourism. India already has stable and proven rockets in the form of PSLV and GSLV. Probably these can be reconfigured for reusable vehicles for takeoff and touchdown. The USP of India has been economic launch of satellites. If they can work to bring down cost of space flights for private space tourists then it will have a huge market. ISRO is already working on a reusable vehicle called RLV. The government is also working to open the space sector to private parties like the US. This is a huge opportunity and lets see how India responds to it.