While humans may be running out of unexplored regions on Earth, space remains a deep and intriguing frontier, especially for tourists. NASA's push to get private "space taxis" flying to the International Space Station in five years is fueling interest in retail space travel. And private companies are rushing to launch the non-astronauts among us into space, albeit for a high price.
One of the more immediately plausible new efforts is SpaceShipTwo, a jet-propelled spacecraft developed by London-based Virgin Group and an aeronautical design company called Scaled Composites. The companies are finishing orbital tests and aim to offer suborbital flights for several hours at around 60 miles (96 kilometers) above Earth's surface by the end of this year. The price? A hefty $200,000 per seat. Virgin Group's Virgin Galactic is already taking bookings.
Photograph courtesy Mark Greenberg, Virgin Galactic
Fly Me to the Moon
The former NASA scientists behind the Golden Spike Company aren't afraid to dream big. Last year they unveiled their ambitious vision for routine trips to the moon within the next decade. Their spacecraft, shown here in a concept drawing, would recycle existing rockets and technology, some of which have been decommissioned. The market: smaller governments, corporations, and wealthy individuals with galactic or scientific ambitions. The ticket for a lunar jaunt for two: $1.4 billion.
Illustration courtesy Golden Spike Company
The private firm Space Adventures has been coordinating tourist visits to the International Space Station since 2006—Anousheh Ansary, shown here in flight, was one of the first space tourists, orbiting the Earth for eight days. The company offers suborbital and orbital flights, with plans for a lunar mission in the next decade. If you snag one of the three seats that may come open this year, it will cost you. A base price of $35 million can secure a roughly 12-day visit circling Earth at 17,500 miles (28,000 kilometers) per hour.
Photograph from NASA
Darting Into Orbit
Chicago-based PlanetSpace continues work on the Silver Dart, a hypersonic glider (shown in this conceptual image) capable of orbital flight. The program doesn't yet take reservations but plans to use the vehicle to shuttle both people and cargo into space.
Illustration courtesy PlanetSpace
Martian Base Camp
The nonprofit Mars One seeks to build a permanent human settlement on Mars (illustrated above) by 2023. This would be no tourist jaunt: The project's website promises prospective travelers that a central point to Mars One's mission objective is the emigration of the human astronauts. According to the website, "Mars becomes their new home, where they will live and work for what will likely be the remainder of their lives." Despite the one-way ticket, more than a thousand people volunteered when the project was announced last year. (Watch: Why psychology may be the key to sending humans to Mars.)
Illustration courtesy Bryan Versteeg, Mars One
A leading developer of spacecraft, Armadillo Aerospace has begun taking reservations for short suborbital space flights just over 50 miles (80 kilometers) above Earth—and with a price tag of just over $100,000—within the next few years. While the company hasn't set specific dates for those flights, or said how long they would be, it partnered with Space Adventures to start selling seats. In this photo, Armadillo tests one of its spacecraft, which would use a propulsion system to take off and land vertically.
Photograph courtesy Armadillo Aerospace
On a budget? If XCOR Aerospace Lynx gets off the ground, a 30-minute suborbital flight would cost just $95,000 per seat. Shown here in a conceptual image, the spacecraft being developed by this California company would be reusable and is slated to conduct up to four flights a day. While still in development, XCOR's technology might also be used someday for quicker travel here on Earth.