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Billionaires in area: area tourism threatens to blow up. Metaphorically. hopeful

Tito's ticket was reportedly $ 20 million – a steal considering Russia now charges the US more than three times as much for astronaut seats on Soyuz flights. Since then, flights have also been sold to South African Mark Shuttleworth (worth just $ 700 million), American entrepreneur Gregory Olson (also just several hundred million), and American billionaire Charles Simonyi – the only person to have bought a private ticket twice in space. Another ticket went to Iranian-American businesswoman Anousheh Ansari, who was the main sponsor of the Ansari X-Prize – the same prize that drove the development of the Branson spaceplane will now fly.

The series of tourist astronauts also includes a few figures who are distinguished by something other than just having deep pockets. One is Richard Garriott, who was known as "Lord British" to an early generation of PC gamers. Garriott literally came into space with the profits I – and tens of thousands of others – invested in creations like Ultima Online. Good for him. Oh, and Garriott used his time on the ISS to make a science fiction short film. Because of course he did.

Singer, actress, and all-round extraordinary person Sarah Brightman was slated to rise too, but she pulled out of training before the flight. Which is a shame.

But now the world seems to be entering a whole new era of space tourism, open to anyone who can spend a few million a day – or is willing to open their IRA and spend $ 250,000 on a 10-minute adventure that is atmospheric.

Virgin Galactic has already sold tickets to Tom Hanks and Katy Perry (both could generate higher bids than Bezos if people could choose their crew members). They have also sold tickets to people like a 61-year-old professor who has already saved up for "zero G" flights on a special aircraft.

Blue Origin has not yet set a price on tickets to ride the New Shepard rocket, but they are expected to have prices similar to flights on Virgin Galactic. On the surface, both companies offer a similar experience. A flight with Blue Origin takes 11 minutes and reaches a maximum altitude of about 100 kilometers. At the top of this flight there will be about three minutes of apparent weightlessness. A flight on VSS Unity should take passengers about 90 kilometers and hover for about seven minutes.

But the two vehicles are actually very different. Blue Origin's New Shepard is a capsule that travels into suborbital space on a liquid-powered rocket. The booster of this rocket makes a vertical landing back on the landing pad, ala SpaceX & # 39; s Falcon 9. The capsule with up to six passengers (no pilots) lands by parachute in the Texan bush. All of this is highly automated and more than a dozen test flights have been carried out. (And yes, everyone is very much aware of what the Bezos missile looks like.)

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity is an aircraft. It is dropped from the belly of the massive twin-hull carrier aircraft and then ignites a hybrid liquid-solid booster that propels it up rapidly. From there, the rear half of the aircraft "springs" forward and positions it for a landing. Twenty minutes later, it slides onto the runway of the New Mexico spaceport. All of this is under the control of two very experienced pilots. An earlier version of the starship, the VSS Enterprise, crashed in 2014, killing a pilot. Since then, the ship has conducted a series of glide tests and made four flights into space.

On the surface, Blue Origin's flight seems like the "no drama" option. It looks like a missile because it is a missile. And it seems quite capable of stealing a quarter of a million dollars from passengers on a regular basis while people are standing in line. Virgin Galactic's plane is definitely going to be the more exciting flight – and offers more time to soar around and gaze at the stars – but it could also be a bit of an experience based on video from the cabin as the vehicle passes Mach 3. ( If you haven't seen the video above, check out the video above. Then consider riding this boat. Yes.)

When you have $ 250,000 burning a hole in your pocket and have a strong desire to see if your stomach can tolerate a massive change in G-forces in just a few minutes, this opportunity comes. But when your pockets are even deeper, there are even more options.

A company called Space Adventures not only offers seats on Russian rockets (The Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is expected to fly to the ISS in December) and are also pushing for significantly more demanding flights. Like a two-person flight around the moon in a Soyuz capsule. Or the chance to be the first private individual to go on a space walk. The ticket price for this falls more or less into the “if you have to ask” category.

While former space tourists were just a place among three cosmonauts, another company, Axiom Space, has signed a contract with NASA that will bring a completely private crew to the ISS for an eight-day stay as early as January next year. On board this first flight will be Axiom VP Michael López-Alegría, who happens to be an old space worker – he is a four-time astronaut and a veteran of both the ISS and the space shuttle. Axiom also has its own space station in the works. Oh, and Axiom's flight is the one who takes a guy named Tom Cruise to the ISS to make a little movie.

SpaceX has already sold an entire private flight of its Crew Dragon capsule to (tell me now) billionaire Jared Isaacman. But a trio of non-billionaires will ride. Including the 29-year-old medical assistant Hayley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor community college teacher and former Air Force officer Chris Sembroski. The flight, dubbed "Inspiration 4", will reuse a capsule from a previous flight that brought NASA astronauts to the ISS. Exactly what Isaacman paid for the flight, it's not clear. A regular ticket for a full Falcon 9 flight costs around $ 60 million, but NASA pays out $ 55 million per seat for manned flights.

Anywhere north of $ 100 million is a good bet.

But that's far from being SpaceX's most spectacular sale. In a flight currently planned for 2023, SpaceX wants to send eight people on one of their new spaceships on a trip around the moon. Looking at all of the videos of Starship prototypes undergoing "rapid unplanned dismantling" (explosion) as they hit hard Texas ground, this may not seem very likely. However, SpaceX recently completed its first successful test flight and plans to conduct a suborbital test towards the end of the year. The flight "Dear Moon" was chartered by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who doesn't seem to think a trip to the ISS will scratch his space itch. Starship is SpaceX's all-purpose vehicle that the company visualizes as a replacement for the Falcon 9 for transporting satellites, as the base of a new lunar lander, and as a passenger transporter for the moon and beyond. Imagine a space-consuming Douglas DC-3. (It's huge too. Like … huge. It's hard to understand in the video, but if you stood next to the pad it would only reach halfway through the bottom fins. You could fit my house in this thing.)

Even that is not the limit of where space tourism will go in the next five years. In addition to the Axiom flight, NASA is actively encouraging tourists to fly to the ISS on both Crew Dragon and Boeing's upcoming Starliner. At least two other companies are working on private space stations. And a human-rated version of the Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spaceplane could soon offer another ride for passengers.

So now you know how to get into space. Step one. Get a billion dollars.

As with anything else, prices will come down, but likely not until the market for seats outgrows the super-rich willing to buy a lift.

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