20 years since Dennis Tito, companies line up to launch tourists in space

American multimillionaire Dennis Tito, 60, gestures shortly after his landing on the steppes, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Arkalyk, Kazakstan, Sunday, May 6, 2001. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel) (MIKHAIL METZEL/AP) On April, 28 2001, Dennis Tito paid his way into orbit to become the first real space tourist. The cost for the former engineer who made a fortune in investment management was reportedly around $20 million, and he did it without NASA’s assistance, hitching a ride up to the International Space Station with the Russian space program on board one of its Soyuz capsules. 20 years later, there have been only a handful more space travelers like Tito, but the ranks of those who can lay claim to having “been to space” is set to swell in the next few years as private businesses get their space tourism plans off the ground. Part of that includes NASA’s shift in attitude from what Tito and other space tourists faced 20 years ago. As of 2019, NASA stated it would begin welcoming what it has called “space participants” to the ISS, and that it would like to one day hand over the low-Earth orbit space station to commercial companies, of which NASA would just become a customer. “It’s really different for us,” said Mike Read, manager of the ISS program’s Commercial Space Utilization Office in 2019. “The Russians have done space flight participants, a number of those, back in the 2000s. When they were doing those, it was difficult for us because it was an interruption in our mission. It was an interruption in the day-to-day ops on station and frankly we weren’t enamored of it at all, to say the least.” But now NASA has contracted with both SpaceX and Boeing as commercial partners to supply taxi service for its astronauts to the ISS. Those two craft with NASA’s blessing can now also be used to ferry people not involved in NASA’s missions to the station. Tito and all other space tourists to the ISS were stuck to the Russian segment of the station. But now, with NASA focused on its missions to the moon and Mars, ,the agency is open to the lucrative idea of welcoming private citizens on board its side of the structure, with a price tag of $35,000 per visitor per day, according to past NASA statements. “We’ll get away from our citizens paying for a ride on a Russian Soyuz vehicle, which doesn’t do our economy any good,” Read said. Not all space tourism will be bound for the orbiting space station, though. Some aim to just let people see the curvature of the Earth for a few minutes, and even experience weightlessness. And a lot of it won’t take millions of dollars, although price tags are still way more than taking a cruise. SpaceX: The company founded by Elon Musk is moving forward with development of its Starship rocket, which will be used for both suborbital flights around the Earth as well as missions into space in the future. For now, it has the Crew Dragon capsule that NASA has successfully used three times to ferry its astronauts to the ISS. The Crew Dragon launches atop the SpaceX workhorse Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A. The company has lined up its first private passengers, though, expected to fly as early as September 2021. Jared Isaacman, head of Shift4 Payments, a credit card-processing company is paying SpaceX an undisclosed sum, to command a four-person crew for a mission dubbed Inspiration4 . The three other passengers won their seats as part of the mission’s altruistic goal of raising funds for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. It will be the first all-civilian crew launched into space with plans for a multi-day low-Earth orbit trip reaching a target altitude of 335 miles. The other passengers are Sian Proctor, Chris Sembroski and Hayley Arceneaux. SpaceX offers future civilian flights at undisclosed costs for trips to low-Earth orbit, the International Space Station, lunar orbit and Mars, the latter of which will be reliant on the successful development of Starship. The first civilian flight to the moon by SpaceX is also already in the works, aiming for a 2023 flight. Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa has bought all the seats on the Starship flight, which will be a week-long trip to the moon and back. The mission has been dubbed dearMoon , and Maezawa opened up a contest to take along eight passengers. Flight vehicle: Crew Dragon, holds up to 7 passengers, launched on Falcon 9 rocket (now); Starship, holds up to 100 passengers (future) The Axiom modules are targeted to attach to the International Space Station beginning in the latter half of 2024, Axiom Space: The group is partnering with SpaceX and NASA to take the first passengers to the ISS, a mission planned for early 2022. In January, it announced the four people on the mission including company vice president and former astronaut Michael López-Alegría. The other three are all paying $55 million a person for the eight-day trip. The company also has begun construction on Earth of what would be the first commercial node attached to the ISS, specifically for its customers. In time, it has plans to build its own freestanding commercial space station called Axiom Station. Blue Origin successfully launched its New Shepard rocket on its 15th test flight from its West Texas facility on Wednesday, … Blue Origin: The Jeff Bezos company has performed 15 successful test flights on its New Shepard reusable rocket with its first human passengers expected by the end of summer. The short flights will see a crew capsule break away from a first stage rocket with passengers reaching more than 100km altitude, known as the Karman line, which is the altitude that is internationally recognized as having made it into space. The rides will allow passengers to unbuckle and experience weightlessness for a few minutes before strapping back into their reclining seats for the trip back to Earth. The company has yet to announce pricing for the flights, or when the first flights for paying passengers will commence. A Blue Origin spokesperson stated, “Stay tuned for updates. We’ll fly when we’re ready.” Virgin Galactic VSS Unity second flight to space Virgin Galactic: The Richard Branson endeavor has already sent five test passengers on board its rocket-powered craft – the VSS Unity – into what Virgin deems space, citing the threshold set by the U.S. Air Force: rocketing to an altitude of 50 miles above the Earth. The first test flight to that altitude was in December 2018 and second in February 2019, earning its pilots and passengers commercial astronaut wings from the Federal Aviation Authority. The company has since added a second SpaceShipTwo to its fleet. The spacecraft are carried up attached to the belly of a larger airplane, dropped, and then make their rocket-powered thrust that allows passengers to see the curvature of the Earth and experience weightlessness before returning back to a landing in which the craft glides back to a runway from where passengers initially launched. Although more than 600 people have already booked future flights, the dates for the customer flights have yet to be announced, although Branson himself has said he’ll be among the first to ride. A rendering of the hydrogen-filled balloon that Space Perspective hopes will one day carry civilian passengers 100,000 feet into space. (Courtesy Space Perspective) Space Perspective: This unique tourism offering seeks to offer the view of space from the comfort of a massive balloon carrying a small group up to 100,000 feet, which is about 19 miles altitude. The company expects to perform its first test flight in 2021 followed by a crewed test flight in 2023 and passenger service in 2024. “We are giving people unprecedented access to the wonder of space travel, making it luxurious, comfortable, and accessible to anyone with the means and dreams,” said Jane Poynter, founder, Co-CEO and chief experience officer for the company. She said the slow approach is better for more potential customers, “so they can soak in, capture and share live the mind-blowing views with people on the ground.” The idea is that anyone medically fit to get on an airplane could take the trip. “More people than have historically been possible will be invited to ride the wave of space history and experience the exhilarating and transformative experience of seeing our beautiful Earth from space,” she said. This rendering shows the Boeing CST-100 Starliner capsule designed to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. (Boeing) Space Adventures/ZERO-G: Dennis Tito was the first, and to date, all eight private space tourist flights to the ISS have been through this company that launches passengers on Russian Soyuz rockets along with at least one cosmonaut. Once NASA’s Space Shuttle Program ended, though, seats dried up on the Soyuz since the U.S. was paying to send astronauts on them to the ISS. But with the […]

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