The Future of Space Tourism

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Mike Melville on top of SpaceShip One in pursuit of the X-Prize

It seems like we’ve been in a perpetual state of “almost” when it comes to broader space tourism since the X-Prize in 2004.  Remember, seven people have already paid their own way to space, so the people who go up on commercial suborbital spaceflights won’t be the first true space tourists. They will be the first suborbital space tourists.

It looks like the race to put the first paying suborbital space tourists will come down to two providers – Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. This post isn’t about predicting who will be first, but what will it mean when people start going.

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VSS Unity, aka SpaceShip Two, in the hanger in Mojave.  VSS Unity will take six passengers and two pilots to space and back.

A suborbital spaceflight will be relatively short – shorter than the time it takes to fly from Seattle to San Diego.  Virgin Galactic has said they expect the experience to last about 90 minutes from touchdown to takeoff, whereas Blue Origin’s flight should be significantly shorter.

In his book “The Overview Effect,” Frank White does an excellent job laying out how the experiences of the first group of human space travelers (approximately 500 people) affected them, and then how that experience has been communicated to the rest of us.

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Tracy Dyson admiring the view from the ISS.  While suborbital space tourists won’t get a view from this altitude, it promises to still be an amazing experience and view

Within a year of sending the first suborbital tourists into space, we should easily see a doubling in the number of people who have traveled above the Karmen line (the internationally recognized edge of space.) How will this experience affect people, and how will so many people coming back having had this presumably amazing experience affect the rest of us? How will people communicate the experience with those they love, their communities, and the world when they return?  Who will these people inspire to to have their own spaceflight experience?

Do you think you’ll be inspired to go?


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