Space tourism became a reality — albeit a very exclusive reality — in 2001 (appropriately enough) with Dennis Tito’s space odyssey to the International Space Station (ISS). It cost him $20 million for his flight on the Russian spacecraft Soyuz TM-32, and after undergoing some pretty serious cosmonaut training, he spent seven days in space. I haven’t been able to confirm that Dennis got to keep his spacesuit, but that would have made for one heck of a souvenir.
Over the next two decades, more affordable options for space tourism have come within in reach — of course, their “affordability” is relative. Virgin Galactic will take you up to the lower fringes of space to float in zero gravity on a Spaceship Two spaceplane for the comparatively reasonable price of around $250,000 USD.
Short sightseeing junkets aboard Blue Horizon’s New Shepard rockets are pricing out at between $200,000 and $300,000, but their rockets are not certified for commercial human flight — yet.
Enter SpaceX. Last May, Elon Musk launched NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. He followed up by launching astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi this last November, returning a crewed launch capability to the United States of America for the first time since Obama killed NASA’s manned-flight program.
On February 1, 2021, SpaceX announced plans to launch Inspiration4, the world’s first all-commercial astronaut mission, on a multi-day orbital flight. Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments (NYSE: FOUR), and commander of Inspiration4, is donating three additional seats to members of the general public. Named in recognition of the four-person crew that will raise recognition and funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the mission opens a new era for human space flight and exploration.
An accomplished jet pilot, Isaacman is rated to fly commercial and military aircraft and holds several world records, including two Speed Around the World flights in 2008 and 2009, raising money and awareness for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He has flown in over 100 airshows as part of the Black Diamond Jet Team, dedicating every performance to charitable causes. He is paying for the flight and donating the remaining three seats. “In fulfilling a personal and lifelong dream, I recognize the tremendous responsibility that comes with commanding this mission,” Isaacman said. “While a historic journey awaits us in space, I hope this mission reinforces how far inspiration can take us and the extraordinary achievements it leads to here on Earth.”
Candidates will be drawn from three potential applicant pools, named Hope, Generosity, and Prosperity:
Hope: A St. Jude ambassador, with direct ties to the mission, who exemplifies the pillar of Hope, as well as the courageous vision upon which St. Jude was founded — compassion, unity, and inclusion.
Generosity: An individual who has supported the St. Jude mission: Finding cures. Saving children.
Prosperity: An inspirational entrepreneur who has used the power of Shift4Shop to launch their dream business.
The Inspiration4 crew will receive commercial astronaut training by SpaceX on the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft and orbital mechanics. They will learn to operate in zero gravity, be taught emergency preparedness procedures, and master spacesuit and spacecraft ingress and egress orientation skills through intensive mission simulations.
It’s the dream of a lifetime: a multi-day journey, orbiting Earth every 90 minutes. Mission accomplished; the Inspiration4 Dragon spacecraft will reenter Earth’s atmosphere for a soft water landing off the coast of Florida.
Sounds like a bit of a stretch? Risk a fortune to launch an online store, submit a video, and hope to impress the judges? Donate a lot of money — to an albeit good cause — in the hope of being selected for a never-to-be-forgotten experience of a lifetime?
Charity is its own reward, and supporting a given charity to achieve worldly gain isn’t really charity. But if you are giving anyway and have grown up dreaming of space … Sounds like a potential win-win.
There are also rumors of a planned reality TV show that will launch the winner to the ISS in 2023. The “unscripted” show (called Space Hero) will search the planet for contestants who will compete for a grand prize of a 10-day “cruise” way up high, gazing down upon the blue marble.
Does it still sound like the chances for an affordable trip to space rates a slim chance to none? The very fact that there are options, no matter how chancy, bodes well for generations of world citizens raised to believe in a future of accessible space travel. It is all good news. With every succeeding breakthrough, with each commercial success, possibilities morph into probabilities, which eventually, or even inevitably, lead to a marketplace for space tourism.
I’ll admit to being a tad impatient.
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Author: Mike Howard