Make your reservations now. The space tourism industry is officially open for business, and tickets are going for a mere $20 million for a one-week stay in space. Despite reluctance from NASA, Russia made American businessman Dennis Tito the world's first space tourist. Tito flew into space aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket that arrived at the International Space Station on April 30, 2001. The second space tourist, South African businessman Mark Shuttleworth, took off aboard the Russian Soyuz on April 25, 2002, also bound for the ISS.

Lance Bass of 'N Sync was supposed to be the third to make the $20 million trip, but as of Sept. 3, 2002, Russia has called off his extraterrestrial vacation due to delays in payment. Probably the most incredible aspect of this proposed space tour is that NASA was in favor of it.

These trips are the beginning of what could be a lucrative 21st century industry. There are already several space tourism companies planning to build suborbital vehicles, orbital hotels and lunar cruise ships within the next two decades. These companies have invested millions, believing that the space tourism industry is on the verge of taking off.

Photo courtesy Space Island Group
Space hotels might be popular vacation spots in 20 years.

In 1997, NASA published a report concluding that selling trips to space to private citizens could be worth billions of dollars. A Japanese report supports these findings, and projects that space tourism could be a $10 billion per year industry within the two decades. The only obstacles to opening up space to tourists are the space agencies, who are concerned with safety and the development of a reliable, reusable launch vehicle.

If you've ever dreamed of going to space and doing what only a few hundred people have done, then read on. In this edition of HowStuffWorks, you'll learn about the spacecraft being designed as destinations for space tourists, and how you may one day have a chance to cruise through the solar system.

Space Accommodations

Photo courtesy NASA
Mir was to become a tourist attraction before it was deorbited in March 2001.
Russia's Mir space station was supposed to be the first destination for space tourists. But in March 2001, the Russian Aerospace Agency brought Mir down into the Pacific Ocean. As it turned out, bringing down Mir only temporarily delayed the first tourist trip into space.

The Mir crash did cancel plans for a new reality-based game show from NBC, which was going to be called Destination Mir. The Survivor-like TV show was scheduled to air in fall 2001. Participants on the show were to go through training at Russia's cosmonaut training center, Star City. Each week, one of the participants would be eliminated from the show, with the winner receiving a trip to the Mir space station. Mir's demise rules out NBC's space plans for now. NASA is against beginning space tourism until the International Space Station is completed in 2006.

Russia is not alone in its interest in space tourism. There are several projects underway to commercialize space travel. Here are a few of the groups that might take you to space:

  • Bigelow Aerospace, formed by Budget Suites of America hotels owner Robert Bigelow, has committed at least $500 million to pursuing a half-mile-long space cruise ship. The Bigelow cruise ship will fly from Earth orbit to the moon and back.

  • Space Island Group is going to build a ring-shaped, rotating space hotel that will resemble the Discovery spacecraft in the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey." Space Island says it will build its space resort out of 12 empty NASA space-shuttle fuel tanks, and place the spacecraft 400 miles (644 km) above Earth by 2006. The space hotel will rotate once per minute to create a gravitational pull one-third as strong as Earth's.

  • The X Prize is a national contest offering $10 million to the first private company that can develop a reusable launch vehicle (RLV) capable of carrying the general public into space.

  • By 2005, Space Adventures plans to offer suborbital space flights on a yet-to-be-built RLV. Its spaceship will take passengers about 62 miles (100 km) above the Earth on a flight that will last between 30 and 150 minutes. Space Adventures is already reserving seats for their flights here.

  • Even Hilton Hotels has shown interest in the space tourism industry and the possibility of building or co-funding a space hotel. However, the company did say that it believes such a space hotel is 15 to 20 years away.
Initially, space tourism will offer meager accommodations at best. For instance, if the International Space Station is used as a tourist attraction, guests won't find the posh surroundings of a hotel room on Earth. It has been designed for conducting research, not entertainment. However, the first generation of space hotels should offer tourists a much more comfortable experience.

Photo courtesy Space Island
The Space Island space hotel will be as comfortable as an Earth hotel.

Space Island says its space hotel will offer guests every perk they might find at a hotel on Earth, and some they might not. The small gravitational pull created by the rotating space hotel will allow passengers to walk around and function normally. The hotel will offer running water, a recycling plant, a farm and medical facilities. Additionally, space tourists will be able to take space walks. Their rooms will have no windows, due to the speed of the spacecraft's rotation -- revolving once per minute, passengers would become sick watching space go by their window. Instead, Space Island is developing screens that will display views of space.

The Bigelow space cruise ship will offer similar services to that of an ocean cruise liner. The ship, which will hold 100 passengers, will also have artificial gravity. These companies believe that they have to offer an extremely enjoyable experience in order for passengers to pay thousands, if not millions of dollars to ride into space. So will space create another separation between the haves and have-nots? In the next section, you'll find out if you'll be able to go to space even if you don't have a million dollars to spend on a vacation.

Who Gets To Go?
Will space be an exotic retreat reserved for only the wealthy? Or will middle-class folks have a chance to take their families to space? Make no mistake about it, going to space will be the most expensive vacation you ever take. Prices right now are in the tens of millions of dollars. Currently, the only vehicles that can take you into space are the space shuttle and the Russian Soyuz, both of which are terribly inefficient. Each spacecraft requires millions of pounds of propellant to take off into space, which makes them expensive to launch. One pound of payload costs about $10,000 to put into Earth orbit.

Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin
The VentureStar space plane could be a tourist bus for space travel.
NASA and Lockheed Martin are currently developing a single-stage-to-orbit launch space plane, called the VentureStar, that could be launched for about a tenth of what the space shuttle costs to launch. If the VentureStar takes off, the number of people who could afford to take a trip into space would move into the millions.

In 1998, a joint report from NASA and the Space Transportation Association stated that improvements in technology could push fares for space travel as low as $50,000, and possibly down to $20,000 or $10,000 a decade later. The report concluded that at a ticket price of $50,000, there could be 500,000 passengers flying into space each year. While still omitting many people, these prices would open up space to a tremendous amount of traffic.

If you don't want to wait for space hotels and cruise ships, Space Adventures offers passengers zero-gravity flights for about $6,000. For about $13,000, you can ride a Russian Mig-25, flying 82,000 feet (24,994 m) up to the edge of space. These prices also include a two-night stay in Moscow. Still too much money for your budget? Some, including Apollo 11 astronaut and ShareSpace Foundation chairman Buzz Aldrin, have proposed a space-trip lottery system to give everyone a chance to go.

Since the beginning of the space race, the general public has said, "Isn't that great -- when do I get to go?" Well, our chance might be closer than ever. Within the next 20 years, space planes could be taking off for the Moon at the same frequency as airplanes flying between New York and Los Angeles.

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