Space tourism is one step – and $8 million – closer to reality, with the completion this week of a massive production plant in California’s Mojave Desert that houses the first passenger aircraft that will fly into space.
According to Virgin Galactic, which is owned by British billionaire Richard Branson and has joint ventured on the project, more than 430 customers have already signed up, at an out-of-this-world cost of $200,000 per ticket.
Indeed, prices are not cheap for this next frontier of travel; to experience Zero G, you’ll have to dish out plenty of them. To that end, I’ve included several options to help you discover your inner Buzz Aldrin, starting with the least expensive.
Feet-on-the-Ground Affordable: A trip to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., is a worthwhile stop. But instead of the crowded, and aging, main facility on the National Mall, make the trek to Dulles Airport (or schedule time before or after your flight) to explore the spectacular Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, which opened in 2003 and houses aviation and space artifacts too big for the main center.
Among the most notable on display: The Space Shuttle Enterprise, the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, and the Enola Gay, the aircraft that dropped the Hiroshima bomb. Weekends can be crowded, and parking costs $15, but those minor hassles are well worth the effort, whether you’re an aviation buff or not.
Sky-High Splurge: If you can’t afford a ticket on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (and who can besides the Bransons of the world?), the next best option might be a zero-gravity plane ride, during which you’ll get your astronaut on by experiencing weightlessness. Several companies offer the adventure, but a solid choice is Zero-G. The Virginia-based operator takes customers on a specially-fitted Boeing 727, which, over 100 miles of airspace, climbs to 32,000 feet before dropping to 24,000 in a series of 12-15 parabolic arcs, for 20-30 second stints of weightlessness each time.
The pricetag? A steep $4,995, but hey, that includes a flight suit and video to make your Earthbound friends jealous. Flights are scheduled this fall to several big cities, including Atlanta, Las Vegas, and San Francisco.
Astronomically Expensive: The recently announced “Inside the Russian Space Program” tour by the Seattle-based MIR Enterprise, an expert in adventure travel and Russia, is enough to make any aviation buff drool. The 10-day itinerary includes all sorts of insider perks: VIP viewing areas and access to briefing sessions for the manned launch of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station; rubbing elbows with cosmonauts over dinners and events; and, for an extra fee, cosmonaut training.
The tour also marks a milestone in aviation history: After the recent shuttering of NASA’s 30-year space shuttle program, American astronauts will now be traveling into space via the Russians’ Soyuz aircraft. The grand total, not including airfare to Moscow: $14,000.
Here's to hoping that, as space tourism continues to develop in the coming decades, we'll eventually start seeing prices that won't send us into orbit.
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