Science & Environment

How soon can we fly to the moon as space tourists?

Space tourist with suitcase Image copyright Thinkstock

With two private citizens planning a trip around the moon in 2018 with US private rocket company SpaceX, a key question now is when will space tourism be an option for the rest of us?

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced two unnamed people had paid a "significant deposit" to secure places in a spaceship that will fly in a loop around the moon, although not involve a lunar landing. Sir Richard Branson has made similar proposals to send holidaymakers on sub-orbital flights in his Virgin Galactic venture.

Many people are fascinated about the possibility of being able to travel to space and BBC audiences have been asking when will they be able to holiday beyond the stratosphere.

Libby Jackson, who is Human Spaceflight and Microgravity Programme Manager at the UK Space Agency, said there could be developments in as little as three years' time.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Astronaut Tim Peake spent six months in orbit around the Earth on board the International Space Station

Ms Jackson, who was involved in supporting Tim Peake's flight to the International Space Station in 2015-16, said the UK government wants to gain a greater share of the commercial spaceflight market, by developing competitive, commercial and safe flight proposals for UK-based satellite launch services and sub-orbital flights.

"The UK Space Agency is facilitating this through grants to help develop the capability and legislation, with the first spaceport in the UK planned to be operational by 2020," she explained.

"A number of companies around the world are already taking bookings for their sub-orbital flights and expect to take fare-paying passengers into space in the coming years," she added.


Why we wrote this article:

We asked readers to send Libby Jackson their questions on the potential of space tourism.

Orville Eastland was one of many who asked: "If this venture is successful, will space travel become available for more people to try?"

Mr Eastland said he wanted to know more because he has always been really interested in anything to do with the cosmos and added: "I would love to take a trip into space even if it is expensive!"


Affordable to all?

In time it is expected that the cost of space travel will eventually come down and become something which is affordable to more than only the very wealthy.

"The age of space tourism has been incubating for many years now, ever since Scaled Composites won the X-prize in 2004," said Ms Jackson.

"Space X is a commercial company and as the sector develops prices will eventually drop, just as aeroplane travel evolved from the early days of expensive flights to the modern era of budget airlines."


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She also warned that it would take roughly a week to travel around the moon and back to earth which could feel like a long time in a small capsule.

"The Dragon 2 capsule has a maximum crew size of seven, so it will be relatively roomy if only two or three people are inside it for the journey, but it is still a small space, about 3.5 metres across," said Ms Jackson.

And you might still have that old dilemma of what to pack as while those on board would most likely be in spacesuits for ascent and re-entry, they could spend most of the voyage in casual clothes like T-shirts and shorts or trousers.

You would have to factor in a long training programme too before you are allowed inside the spacecraft.

Image copyright SPACEX
Image caption Artwork: The Dragon capsule has been used regularly to shuttle back and forth to the International Space Station (ISS)

"Professional astronauts undertake at least two years of intensive training for any upcoming mission and I imagine the passengers will need similar amounts," Ms Jackson explained.

"They will need to know how to operate key parts of the spacecraft so that if there are any emergencies or issues in communications with mission control they could keep themselves and the spacecraft safe."

Once you have left the relative safety of orbiting the Earth, if there were any issues the occupants would have to deal with these with the help of Mission Control.

"Space tourists who have visited the International Space Station have had very little interaction with the spacecraft they are passengers in, but they have still had good levels of training in the essentials such as what to do in the event of a fire or rapid depressurisation of the spacecraft," said Ms Jackson.

"Even if the intention is to fly in autopilot, the tourists would, I imagine, receive training in these areas and even more if they are to go without a professional pilot to accompany them."


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