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At least for now.
 
At least for now.
  
Fortunately, there are countless opportunities for exploration and discovery down on the surface, in places such as [[Africa]], [[Asia]], [[Europe]], the [[Middle East]], [[North America|North]], [[Central America|Central]], and [[South America]]s, and countless [[islands]] in between...
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Fortunately, there are countless opportunities for exploration and discovery down on the surface, in places such as [[Africa]], [[Asia]], [[Europe]], the [[Middle East]], [[North America|North]], [[Central America|Central]], and [[South America]]s, and countless [[Island nations|islands]] in between...
  
 
{{usabletopic}}
 
{{usabletopic}}

Revision as of 12:24, 4 April 2007

a view of Europe from low Earth orbit

Space is – as Star Trek puts it – the "final frontier". It's still a tiny market by anyone's standard, but commercial space tourism has arrived for those who can afford it.

Contents

Understand

Driven to prove their superiority during the Cold War, as well as to gain a strategic advantage, the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. began a space race during the 1960s. In an astonishingly short time period, the U.S. Apollo program landed human beings on the moon and the Soviet Salyut program kept them in orbit for months at a time. Probes began to explore the solar system. Space seemed very close; at one point tickets to the moon and to as-yet-non-existing space stations were being sold.

After the Space Race ended, a new sense of reality set in. The wild dreams of the 60s and 70s died, and humanity turned its attention Earthward again. Space travel beyond Earth's orbit became the exclusive domain of mankind's robotic explorers, and high-profile tragedies both reaching and returning from orbit provided sobering reminders of the risks of space travel. By the end of the 20th Century, travel into space was still exclusively the domain of governmental organizations.

However, necessity changed the situation with the dawn of the 21st century. Desperate for funds, the Russian space agency began to sell seats on Soyuz launches. Businessman Dennis Tito became the first pay-to-fly space tourist in April 2001, and as of September 2006, three more have followed in his footsteps.

Get in

Although physical fitness remains a concern, the main obstacle to reaching space is the depth of your wallet. In increasing order of both cost and distance from the Earth:

Zero-G

While not actual space travel, the weightlessness experienced in orbit can be duplicated (for durations of less than a minute at a time) with a calibrated parabolic aircraft flight, which alternates low g-forces at the heights of its arcs with high g-forces at the bottoms.

  • Space Adventures, [1]. Offers flights from Florida aboard a specially-equipped plane with a large compartment suitable for weightless tumbling, including several brief simulations of freefall, Lunar gravity (1/6 Terran), and Martian gravity (1/3 Terran). $3,750.00 per person.
  • Incredible Adventures, [2]. Books flights with Space Adventures and on the Russian Space Agency's similarly equipped IL-76 MDK, departing from Moscow.

Edge of space

Flights at altitudes of less than 100 km do not qualify as true spaceflight, but it is possible to see the curvature of the Earth from altitudes as (comparatively) low as 25 km.

  • Space Adventures, [3]. Arranges flights on Russian MiG-25 Foxbat jet flights to 25,000 meters. Estimated price tag $12,000 per flight.

Sub-orbital flight

Sub-orbital flight is defined as flight at altitudes higher than 100 km but at speeds insufficient to achieve orbit. While there are currently no operators offering sub-orbital flight, the privately funded and built SpaceShipOne in 2004 demonstrated that this is a possible market and the race is on to commercialize it.

  • Virgin Galactic, [4]. Founded by who else but Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic is selling tickets for sub-orbital flights, planned to start in 2008, for a cool $200,000 a pop. The company has placed an order for five second-generation spaceships from Scaled Composites [5], the builders of SpaceShipOne.

Orbital flight

All that sub-orbital stuff is pretty nifty, but these days no one's really ready to accept that you were "in space" until you've been in orbit around the Earth. There's no single altitude for this (it depends on your orbital velocity), but due to atmospheric drag it's only practical above 350 km. Commonly known as Low Earth Orbit, this is currently the exclusive domain of U.S. Space Shuttles, Russian Soyuz vessels, Chinese Shenzhou craft, and the International Space Station. This itinerary is likely the most expensive in the world.

  • Space Adventures, [6]. Space Adventures has organized orbital flights to the International Space Station (ISS). US $20 million per person will buy you basic training and a launch on a Soyuz vessel from the Russian space center Baikonur to the ISS. Note that participants must also fulfill certain physical fitness requirements to ensure their and the mission's safety. A $15-million "EVA upgrade" adds 90 minutes of extra-vehicular activity (better known as a "spacewalk") to your trip; this option requires a month of training and has additional fitness qualifications.

Trans-orbital flight

Human travel beyond low Earth orbit has not been done since the cancelation of the U.S. Apollo program in 1972. The only programs actively working to re-establish this capability are governmental in nature. However in 2005, Space Adventures announced its intention to work with Russian spacecraft manufacturer Energia and the Russian space agency to offer a roughly one-week two-passenger flight around the Moon (no orbit, no landing) in a booster-equipped Soyuz craft for US$100 million per person, as early as 2010. This depends on a customer making a hefty deposit to get the project running, so don't wait for them to announce a flight date to get your name in.

See

  • The sight of the Earth from space is reputed to be incomparable.
  • At altitudes above the thick atmosphere, the stars cease to "twinkle".
  • Sunrise and sunset lose much of their multicolored glory, but take on greater intensity and speed at orbital and even suborbital velocities.

Do

  • Freefall (often inaccurately called "zero gravity") is a phenomenon which, while not unique to spacecraft, occurs only momentarily on Earth, such as in thrill rides or high-speed elevators. If you experience freefall and don't do some aerobatics and flying around the craft, you've wasted a great deal of money.
  • Tourists traveling on otherwise scientific missions may be expected to contribute to them, participating in medical observations at the least.

Eat

Although space food has come a long way in terms of taste and variety in recent decades, the quality and taste is still not up to standards of most connoisseurs of fine cuisine. Due to the high delivery costs, food eaten in space is also some of the most expensive in the world (or rather, out of it).

Sleep

In 2006, Bigelow Aerospace [7] successfully tested the first prototype of an inflatable space hotel. However, even if everything goes according to plan, the real thing won't be up in orbit before 2012.

Stay safe

Space is not safe. It's much safer today than it was in the 1960s, but it remains an inherently dangerous environment to put yourself in. Cosmic radiation, extreme temperatures, micrometeorites, engineering mistakes, high speeds, explosive fuels, the distance to terra firma, and the lack of atmosphere make any unplanned situation potentially life threatening.

Get out

What goes up, must come down.

At least for now.

Fortunately, there are countless opportunities for exploration and discovery down on the surface, in places such as Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North, Central, and South Americas, and countless islands in between...

This is a usable article. It touches on all the major areas of the topic. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!

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