Everyday space travel: Dream or Reality?
The first manned space flight in 1961 captured the imagination of the world, and for many, space travel became a lifelong dream. Throughout the sixties, Man’s successes in space left many believing space tourism was on the doorstep. Pan American Airlines were the first to capture this interest, launching a waiting list for flights to the moon in 1968. The First Moon Flights Club was born, attracting 93,000 members over the following two decades.
Sadly, these people were destined to remain on a waiting list and space travel has since been reserved for astronauts and a select few ultra-wealthy individuals.
However, recent start-ups such as Virgin Galactic and Swiss Space Systems could be set to change this. Both companies are working hard to make space travel as economical and accessible as possible. Swiss Space System’s mission is “to give access to space”. Their combined developments mean that, in the not so distant future, the average consumer should be able to engage in space travel for both leisure and transport purposes.
The first space tourist is generally considered to be Dennis Tito, who on April 28 2001 launched into space where he spent over seven days, orbiting the earth 128 times. He was shortly followed by Mark Shuttleworth in April 2002. Both are said to have shelled out $20million for their flight on the Russian Soyuz Spacecraft. In contrast Virgin Galactic offer a flight into the infinite for around $250,000, just over 1% of the price that the first space tourists paid only 13 years ago. Whilst still expensive to the average tourist, prices are likely to continually decrease as flights become more prevalent, demand increases and new technology is developed. 600 amateur astronauts have already signed up for Virgin’s two and half hour suborbital flight, with the first scheduled to take off before 2015.
Swiss Space System’s (S3) focus is less on space tourism and more on developing an economical solution for the commercial use of space shuttles. Their S3 shuttle has dual capabilities, and is able to launch small satellites into orbit at rates viable even for universities and research institutions. The shuttle will also be capable of carrying passengers, but with the view to providing supersonic intercontinental flights between spaceports. Their satellite launch model will theoretically allow spaceports on different continents to be reached within one hour. The S3 shuttle will be launched in the air from an Airbus A300 and as well as being re-useable, will operate on standard aviation fuels thereby keeping costs to a minimum. The Airbus A300 is also a particularly suited launch aircraft as it is certified for use in zero gravity.
With the first launch scheduled for 2018 and many other developments set to take place in the meantime, the fantasy of everyday space travel becomes less of a dream and more of a reality.