Are you a bit stir-crazy from being cooped up this past year? Have you been saving your money for a nice long trip? Well, one company is selling tickets for a ride into outer space this fall. And it will only cost about $250,000.
On May 22, Virgin Galactic had a successful test of its first rocket shuttle, the VSS Unity, to the very top of the atmosphere. The Unity was ferried up to high altitude by the Virgin Mothership (a misnomer if I ever heard one), then released. With rockets on, the Unity went 55 miles above Earth’s surface, with just two pilots on board. For comparison, a jet airliner can go up to about 20 miles high.
In addition to a test flight, the Unity carried a microgravity experiment from NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, which enables partnerships between NASA and commercial spaceflight industry.
NASA oversees agreements between commercial flight providers and researchers from academia, nonprofit institutes and industry, where microgravity experiments can be carried into suborbital space for testing. For example, a space-based surgical system designed to handle zero-G medical emergencies, was aboard Unity.
Before taking on paying customers, two more test flights are planned. Unity has room for six passengers, and the next test flight is scheduled with four mission specialists in the cabin.
Although there is little information on what the mission specialists will do, presumably they need to check out the passenger experience before taking on paying customers. A second trial flight may include billionaire Sir Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Galactic.
Virgin Galactic is not the only private company looking to get in on the business of space travel.
SpaceX, run by billionaire Elon Musk, has a sweepstake for a seat on its Dragon spacecraft in collaboration with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Just make a small donation to St. Jude and your name could be drawn!
The event is being funded in part by another billionaire, Jared Isaacman, who will go into orbit with 3 sweepstakes winners. The mission is scheduled to lift off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida later this year.
Blue Origin, headed by billionaire Jeff Bezos, is planning to fly its first crewed spaceflight on July 20, which coincidentally is the date of the first moon landing. Their rocket ship, called New Shepard (named after astronaut Alan Shepard), will get to zero gravity three minutes after launch, and reenter the atmosphere three minutes later. Bidding for a passenger seat on that first flight is open, with the bid currently at only $2.8 million.
If you’re thinking that tourist space travel is only for the very rich, you’d be right. I guess I’ll stick with my summer vacation plans and just go on the roller coaster.
Kenneth Hicks is a professor of physics and astronomy at Ohio University in Athens.
This Article firstly Publish on www.dispatch.com