Cover Photo: Virgin Galactic

Zero gravity and moon landings —the race is on to make commercial space tourism a reality

Ever since Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk the moon in 1969, many have shared the dream of being able to explore outer space. While space exploration has been reserved for professional astronauts, it won’t be long until private citizens can book a flight out of Earth, with entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos in a race to make space travel a reality.

In fact, the next flight taking tourists to the Internation Space Station (ISS) could be happening as soon as 2021. Want to be amongst the first tourists to travel in space? Here are five companies that want to make space tourism—and maybe space colonisation—happen in the near future.

See also: The Space Race: 3 Billionaires Who Are Conquering The Cosmos

1. Space X

The brainchild of tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, SpaceX was founded with the goal of reducing space transportation costs and ultimately enabling humans to live on other planets—in particular, Mars.

In February 2018, Elon Musk captured our imagination when he launched “Starman”—a mannequin in a spacesuit—behind the wheel of a Tesla Roadster into space with the Falcon Heavy. But Spaceman won’t be alone in space for much longer.

The private aerospace manufacturer announced in September 2018 that the first commercial flight around the moon could be ready to launch in just five years, and Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa of e-commerce giant Zozo, along with a coterie of artists commissioned by him, will be the first passengers to fly beyond the low Earth orbit in 2023.

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2. Virgin Galactic

Founded by Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic was created in 2004 with the aim to be the world’s first commercial spaceline. The company received widespread attention when it was first announced as Sir Richard Branson had suggested a maiden flight as early as 2009, opening reservations to its space voyages to the public.

Famous space travel hopefuls included Justin Bieber, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ashton Kutcher as well as Lady Gaga, who was originally scheduled to perform in space on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo in 2015. The plan was cancelled following the 2014 VSS Enterprise crash.

Despite the setback, Virgin Galactic appears to be back on track. In December last year, the spaceline successfully flew SpaceShipTwo to the edge of space with two test pilots. Just two months later in February, Virgin Galactic made its first successful test flight with two pilots and one passenger, where they experienced four minutes of microgravity before gliding back to Earth.

The company announced plans to go public this month via a merger with New York-based investment firm Social Capital Hedosophia, appointing Chamath Palihapitiya as chairman of the venture.

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See also: Galaxy Quest: 7 Tatler A-Listers Weigh In on Extraterrestrial Life 

3. Blue Origin

Unlike Space X and Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin is shooting for the moon. A venture by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, the private company was founded in 2000 with the desire to enable private human access to space at lower costs and increased reliability. Blue Origin believes that tapping into the unlimited resources and energy in space is the answer to preserving Earth.

The company has designed two crafts to date, with a focus on reusability. The vertical-takeoff and landing spaceship New Shepard is named after astronaut Alan Shepard, and orbital rocket New Glenn, in honour of astronaut John Glenn. With New Shepard launched successfully on its 11th test flight in May, it won’t be long until they carry passengers into space.

Another exciting project that has recently been unveiled is the “Blue Moon” lunar lander, which aims to send cargo and astronauts to the moon by 2024, eventually enabling sustained human presence on the moon.

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4. Orion Span

Beyond transporting humans into outer space, Orion Span has set its sights further, with plans to build the world’s first luxury space hotel, capable of hosting six people at a time. Announced last year, the startup’s space tourism package includes 12 days onboard the Aurora Station, where guests can “experience the thrill of zero gravity, watch the aurora borealis, grow food in space, or dive into [the] holodeck.”

Passengers are required to go through a three-month training program which prepares them for space in theory and practice. The space tour is priced at US$9.5 million, and reservations are already available with a deposit of US$80,000.

While the initial plan was to host guests as early as 2022, Orion Span’s first crowdfunding campaign in 2018 reportedly fell short of its funding goal, with no further updates.

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5. Space Adventures

Though it does not generate as much buzz as Space X or Virgin Galactic, Space Adventures can be considered the pioneer of space tourism. After all, it is the only one on the list which has already sent seven private citizens to the International Space Station (ISS) from as early as 2001.

The company's first orbital spaceflight client—and the world’s first space tourist—was American millionaire Dennis Tito, who secured his ticket to space in 2001 with US$20 million. He was closely followed by South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth, who spent ten days in space in 2002.

Space Adventure’s last known space flight was made by Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté in 2009, though a short-duration space flight for two participants is scheduled to launch in late 2021. This is in partnership with Russia’s state corporation Roscosmos.

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