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Thinking of booking a space trip? Here are 6 things to consider

todayJuly 23, 2021 1

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It’s been a momentous month for space-faring billionaires. On July 11, British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson’s Unity “rocket-plane” flew him and five fellow passengers about 85 kilometers above Earth. And this week, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ New Shepard capsule reached an altitude of 106km, carrying Bezos, his brother, and the oldest and youngest people ever to reach such a height. Passengers on both flights experienced several minutes of weightlessness and took in breathtaking views of our beautiful and fragile Earth.

Both flights created an avalanche of media coverage and brand recognition for Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Bezos’s Blue Origin. There is renewed anticipation of a lucrative commercial space tourism industry that could eventually see thousands of paying passengers journey into space (or not quite into space, depending on your preferred level of pedantry).

This year marks 60 years since Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. Since then, almost 600 trained astronauts have gone into outer space, but very few people have become space tourists.

The first, US engineer Dennis Tito, paid a reported US$20 million to spend six days orbiting Earth in the Russian section of the International Space Station in April 2001, after three months’ training at Russia’s Star City complex. He was followed by a handful of other very wealthy “orbital tourists”, most recently Cirque de Soleil founder Guy Laliberté in 2009, whose ticket reportedly cost US$35 million.

Unlike their predecessors, Branson’s and Bezos’ flights were suborbital – they didn’t reach the velocity needed to orbit Earth. Bezos’s entire flight lasted just over 10 minutes. Suborbital flights are much less technically complex, and in theory cheaper (although one seat on the New Shepard flight was auctioned for US$28 million).

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