So, it looks as if it really will happen after all. For years, I have assumed that space travel would be possible one day, but almost certainly not in my lifetime. There seemed to be relatively little substance beneath the hype. But now things seem to be developing quite fast.
On July 11 last year, Richard Branson ascended just over 50 miles (the height that the U.S. considers the beginning of outer space) aboard his Virgin Galactic craft and experienced a few minutes of weightlessness. Nine days later, Jeff Bezos was part of a four-man crew aboard a Blue Origin rocket that flew to an altitude of 62 miles, or the so-called Kármán line (an internationally accepted boundary with outer space). He was followed in October by William Shatner. In April this year, Elon Musk’s SpaceX took four passengers to the International Space Station (ISS) at a reported cost of $55 million each. Then there is the curious case of Dennis Tito, the world’s first space tourist, who paid $20 million in 2001 to travel to the ISS aboard a Russian craft. Now, Mr. Tito, at 82, has signed up with SpaceX for a trip to the moon within the next five years, along with his wife.
Of course, such trips are ridiculously expensive, so what has actually changed? Well, Virgin Galactic insists that it will begin regular space flights in the third quarter of 2023 at the somewhat more approachable cost of $450,000. Still a chunk of change, but not an impossible amount for quite a lot of people.