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The Space Race, driven by the United States and the Soviet Union, came to a conclusion in 1969. The first man to ever walk the moon was Neil Armstrong, and with this achievement he stated “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” In recent times, a new sort of space race has been making efforts to prepare mankind for yet another leap: Space Tourism.
Space Tourism is the act of visiting and traveling space for recreational purposes; the industry has seen steady growth since the late 1990s. According to Grand View Research, “the global space tourism market size was valued at USD 598 million in 2021,” and is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 37.1%. In a statement from John Spencer, founder and president of the Space Tourism Society, he surmises that as the space tourism industry continues to grow, outer space recreations, perhaps even sports and media, will grow alongside it.
While there are various organizations participating in the race for making space recreational, three key players are making significant progress in the field: SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic.
In 2002, Elon Musk founded SpaceX with the ultimate goal to enable human space travel and human life on distant planets – specifically Mars. The aerospace company has since been experimenting with space travel as they are in the works of making space tourism an accessible reality. In May of 2020, SpaceX launched its first humans aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft with the help of a Falcon 9 rocket. Almost two years later and with the help of NASA, SpaceX successfully launched its first space tourists. In April of this year, three visitors and one former NASA astronaut, who served as their chaperone, reached the International Space Station and enjoyed their ten day vacation before landing off the Florida coast. To book a trip to space with SpaceX, customers will most likely pay near the $55 million the most recent tourists paid. The company has dedicated a portion of its website for further customers, yet a set timeline is unclear.
While SpaceX seems to be making strides within the world of space tourism and exploration, they have also experienced many hiccups along the way. Notably, their most recent hurdle was the explosion of their rocket. This rocket was supposed to be an early version of Starship, and the vehicle exploded on the launchpad. Elon Musk explained that the root cause of this mishap may be related to cryogenic fuels and its tendency to “create fuel-air explosion risk in a partially oxygen atmosphere like Earth.”
While many are familiar withJeff Bezos’ e-commerce company Amazon, Bezos also has his foot in the space tourism industry with Blue Origin. The private spaceflight company has a blue feather as its logo; the feather, according to its website, represents the “perfection of flight” as well as the “freedom, exploration, mobility and progress” associated with flying. The iconic rocket that Blue Origin utilizes is reusable – including its booster, engine, landing gear, and capsule. Since July of 2021, the New Shepard program has launched 21 flights – five of them being crewed. The company’s most recent launch was Mission NS-21, which saw the launching, sub-orbital spaceflight, and landing of six crew members.
The company does not openly share its pricing for the space flights. However, according to previous customers, the cost varies from zero to $30 million depending on the person. Looking at the company’s previous customers, it seems as if Blue Origin prioritizes those with social capital. Blue Origin has not come out with an official pricing guide as of current.
Just over a year ago, Richard Branson “won the billionaire space race by taking his own privately-funded vessel to the edge of space.” He accomplished his childhood dream to reach space with the help of his spaceflight company Virgin Galactic.. Founded in 2004, Virgin Galactic aims to deliver commercial space flights; however, the company has experienced a multitude of delays. While the initial launching of Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity with Branson onboard seemed promising, there have been a few setbacks since. A couple weeks after the launch in July of 2021, “it was revealed that VSS Unity flew outside its designated airspace for 1 minute and 41 seconds after being released by its carrier aircraft.” As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded and required Virgin Galactic to improve their protocols and communications with the FAA before clearing them. Yet it seems as if approval from the FAA is not the only thing keeping the company grounded.
In May of 2022, Virgin Galactic came out with a statement that they “would push back commercial service for its spaceflights from the fourth quarter of 2022 to the first quarter of 2023, citing ‘escalating supply chain and labor constraints.’” The spaceflight company also recently contracted Aurora Flight Services, an aeronautics research subsidiary of Boeing, to help build new carrier planes. With this, Virgin Galactic hopes to fly 400 flights a year in order to deliver on the promise of commercial space flights to its estimated 700 customers that have paid the $450,000 ticket price.
While these three spaceflight companies stand at the forefront of space tourism, there are many other organizations starting to make their mark within the emerging industry. One such company is World View, a startup that will utilize helium filled balloons to give customers the spaceflight experience. The company plans to operate flights by 2024, and it has already secured its 1,000th customer. Space goers will start their trip from the Grand Canyon and will be able to see the earth and its curvature from 23 miles above.
Boeing, another aerospace company, has recently completed a successful test run of its starcraft Starliner. The company is in collaboration with NASA’s commercial crew program and has the potential to be SpaceX’s direct competitor.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Daniel Shin is a contributor to Identity Review from the University of Southern California.
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