Space tourism explained: What, why and where

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(Last updated on: 19/10/2020)

Space tourism is an exciting development in the travel and tourism industry. A futuristic type of tourism, the prospect of being able to spend leisure time in space is a daunting concept for many. But whilst some of us may have expected only have to be able to experience space tourism using virtual reality software, several companies are turning holidays in space into a reality.

What is space tourism?

Space tourism is a type of tourism that involves an interest in space. Whilst most people associate space tourism solely with trips to space, the concept of space tourism is, in fact, broader than this.

Space tourism can include visiting space-focussed museums, watching rocket launches or travelling to destinations popular for stargazing, amongst other space-related activities.

Most recently, there has been a lot of commercial attention centred around the concept of travelling to space as a tourist; this is something that several companies are working to achieve in the near future, including Virgin Galactic and SpaceX.

Space tourism definitions

If you Google the phrase ‘what is space tourism’ you will quickly be informed by Google, Wikipedia and a range of other sources that it is travelling to space for leisure or business purposes.

I, however, contest that space tourism is solely focussed upon the act of travelling to space. There is so much more to space tourism than this! Yes, this is an exciting prospect that has grabbed the attention of the media and the public, but hold on a minute…. what about all the other space-related activities that we can do without boarding a rocket and leaving the solar system?

The people over at The Space Tourism Guide have the right idea. They state that;

‘Space Tourism is not — and should not be — confined to space alone… While we can and should consider all of the activities from space tourism companies like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, Zero2Infinity, and others space tourism, we should not discredit the companies and destinations here on earth who meet the needs and desires for all of us who love to travel for space-related activities. These can vary widely, from cities and museums like Space Center Houston to hotels with space-themed rooms.’

Space tourism is so much more than taking a trip to space! In fact, I argue that space tourism should encompass all activities related to space and astrology!

A random rocket statue in the streets of St Petersburg, Russia

To date, there is little academic research into space tourism. Yes, some people have looked into astrology and the like, but on the whole, there is a dearth of information. Most research that has been conducted has focussed on looking at potential demand and market demographics.

In light of the misleading definitions that you will find when asking your favourite search engine what is meant by the term space tourism, I have provided my own definition below.

‘Space tourism is the act of taking part in activities that involve or are related to space, either for business or leisure purposes.’

So there you have it- a definition of space tourism.

History of space tourism

There are a total of 600 people that have been to space. The first man visited space in 1961, but it was actually long before this day that many people developed an interest in space. In fact, people have been star gazing as long as records go back. Heck, even the ancient pyramids of Egypt were built around the stars.

So, the concept of space tourism is not new.

The 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s saw huge progress in space research. The Soviet Union and The United States were world leaders in this area; undertaking many trips to space, exploring our solar system, nearby planets and moons. Space travel became more affordable and we learnt a lot during this time.

Read also: Dark tourism explained: What, why and where

It was only at the turn of the new millennium that commercial space tourism ,whereby a tourist could travel to space, started to become a reality. A handful of wealthy citizens from around the world embarked on their leisure outings to space between 2001-2009. Observing this demand, a number of space tourism operators began to emerge, namely Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Rocket Lab. Said companies have since become household names.

Infographic by The Space Tourism Guide

In recent years the commercial hype and excitement towards space tourism has died down. The public continue to eagerly await the days that they may be able to exchange their all-inclusive holiday in Benidorm for a week of zero-gravity in space, but for most, this is an unrealistic and unachievable prospect.

For now, it appears that travelling into space will be available only for the super-rich, and we do not yet know when this might be attainable. BUT the space tourism industry in all its other forms (museums, star gazing, rocket launches etc) remains to be obtainable to all.

Types of space tourism

We might not realistically be able to travel into space for our annual leave days just yet, but there are still ways that we can get involved with the space tourism industry. Here are some examples.

Stargazing

Stargazing is a popular space tourism pastime for many. There are many parts of the world that are renowned for their stargazing potential. These are usually remote areas, where the light pollution is reduced, enabling maximum visibility.

Some popular stargazing destinations have capitalised on the tourist market by organising stargazing tours or stargazing-focussed accommodation options, such as bubble hotels. This CNN article shows you some of the best bubble hotel spots around the world.

A bubble hotel in Iceland from website The Spaces

Rocket launches

Whilst a rocket launch may not be an everyday occurrence, it is possible to spectate when they do happen. Once operated only by Governments, there are now a range of private companies that undertake rocket launches.

If you travel to a destination with the sole intention of watching a rocket launch, or if you watch a rocket launch alongside other business or leisure pursuits, you can be classified as a space tourist.

Space museums

A prominent part of the space tourism industry are space museums.

There are many museums throughout the world that are focussed around the concept of space, although these are most numerous in the United States and Russia. Here are some of the most highly-rated space museums.

  • Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC, US
  • Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Ottawa, Canada
  • Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, Moscow, Russia
  • Pima Air and Space Museum, Arizona, US
  • Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, New York City, US
  • Le Bourget Air and Space Museum, Paris, France
  • Kennedy Space Center, Florida, US
  • Cité de l’espace, Toulouse, France
A rocket on display in Moscow, Russia

Space tourism holidays

As I mentioned earlier, space tourism holidays are what many people think space tourism is all about. Whilst there are other activities that constitute space tourism, space tourism holidays have gained a lot of media attention in recent years, and rightly so. Who wouldn’t pick up the paper and read an article that tells them that they can swap their two weeks in the sun for two weeks in space?

OK, so it isn’t quite so simple. It will require some adjustment to spending time at zero gravity, you might get a little travel sick and you might not return home with quite the same tan lines, BUT space tourism holidays are set to become a reality.

Read also: Insta tourism explained: What, why and where

There are a number of companies who have been developing their space tourism products for a number of years, although exactly when we can go on our next space tourism holiday, is yet to be determined.

Space tourism companies

There are several key players in the space tourism holiday market. See below for a brief summary of each.

Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic is perhaps one of the best known space tourism holiday companies. It is part of the wider Virgin Group and therefore has the benefit of an already well-established brand and reputation. It is owned by Richard Branson.

The company plans to send range of tourists to space and already has an extensive waitlist for eager space travellers, including the likes of Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ashton Kutcher and Justin Bieber.

Virgin Galactic has, however, had some negative publicity in recent times, with multiple delays and the in-flight loss of its VSS Enterprise spaceplane in 2014.

SpaceX

Unlike Virgin Galactic, SpaceX are an experienced rocket launching company that are now extending their operations to the commercial space tourism holiday market.

SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk. Their first holiday was initially scheduled for 2018, but has since been delayed.

Blue Origin

Blue Origin plans to offer similar space tourism holidays to that offered by Virgin Galactic. With a traditional, vertical take-off rocket, the company plans to begin operations soon, although there is not firm date set yet.

Blue Origin was founded in 2000 by Mr Bezos.

Orion Span

Orion Span plans to send tourists to space to stay in their ‘space hotel’. The space hotel would accommodate up to six tourists at a time and would be positioned the private commercial space station, Aurora Space Station.

The CEO of Orion Span is Frank Bunger who states that the company’s ‘goal is to make space accessible to all’. They plan to begin operations in 2021.

Boeing

Better known for their aircraft that do not leave the hemisphere, Boeing have also branched out into the space tourism holiday market.

Boeing’s involvement emerged from their working arrangement with NASA, whereby they have been working on the Commercial Crew Development programme, aimed at increasing involvement from private sector companies in the production of crew vehicles to be launched into orbit.

Boeing have developed a crew capsule, called the Boeing CST-100 Starliner, providing them with the opportunity to sell seats to space tourists.

Is space tourism safe?

There have been some concerns over the safety of space tourism, particularly after the negative publicity surrounding the Virgin Galactic loss of aircraft in 2014.

Because it’s so early in development of the space tourism industry and the FAA can’t control how companies design and manufacture their aircraft , it’s hard to say how safe space tourism holidays will be.

There have been many critiques, however, who have suggested that there will be deaths amongst tourists who seek to holiday in space. The number of accidents that have occurred during the testing phases hasn’t done much to people’s minds at ease, either.

The cost of space tourism holidays

Space tourism holidays are for everyday folk, at least not yet anyway, because you need to have a hefty sum of money in your pocket to be able to afford the ticket.

Prices start from US$250,000 and range up to tens of millions of Dollars. Whilst each space tourism holiday company will differ slightly, prices will typically include pre-departure training and equipment. For now, space tourism trips are set to be short in duration, lasting only a few hours. The intention is, however, that trips can be extended in the future to allow for prolonged stays in space.

Read also: Overtourism explained: What, why and where

Space tourism: Conclusion

As you can see, the space tourism industry is a prominent part of the wider tourism industry. Whilst most attention typically goes to the exciting prospect of space tourism holidays, there are also a number of other leisure pursuits that constitute space tourism.

It is likely that we will see many developments in the space tourism industry in the coming years, as research and development continues to be undertaken by a number of commercial operators. Watch this space and maybe you will be the next person to spend your annual leave days in space!

Further reading

If you want to read up on the space tourism industry a little more then I can recommend the following texts-

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Hi, am Dr Hayley Stainton

I’ve been travelling, studying and teaching travel and tourism since I was 16. Through Tourism Teacher I share my knowledge on the principles and practice of travel and tourism management from both an academic and practical perspective.

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