frontier of travel? If Richard Branson and others like him have their way, the
answer is outer space. The Virgin Atlantic CEO marked a major milestone in
space tourism last Monday with the first
supersonic test flight of Virgin
Galactic, a passenger spacecraft aiming to become the world’s first
commercial “spaceline” by 2014.
But are travellers
really interested in going to space?
2008 ABC News poll on the topic, although
65% of respondents believed that in the years ahead ordinary people will travel
to outer space, the median price that they were willing to pay was just $2,000
– a far cry from the $200,000 ticket Virgin Galactic ticket.
survey by Spaceport
Associates and Incredible
Adventures, two US companies pioneering space tourism, if cost were not an
issue nearly two-thirds of respondents would go on a “round-the-moon adventure”.
More than 70% surveyed would spend two weeks or less on a suborbital tourism
flight and 88% were interested in spacewalking.
trips are the beginning of what could be a lucrative 21st-century
industry,” wrote Kevin Bonsor on science website howstuffworks.com,
noting that several space tourism companies have begun building suborbital
vehicles for commercial space travel. “These companies have invested millions,
believing that space tourism industry is on the verge of taking off.”
are Xcor Aerospace Inc, which hopes to join
Virgin Galactic in the space tourism business. Private company SpaceX is developing its own rocket family,
Falcon, capable of sending seven people to any space station. Space Adventures Ltd is working on a
circumlunar mission to the moon (price per passenger is currently $100 million).
Even commercial airliner Boeing is
getting in on the venture, building
a spacecraft to transport passengers to the International Space Station, a
habitable satellite low in Earth’s orbit where scientists from around the world
live, work and research.
Virgin Galactic’s commercial space tourism project, some 529 would-be space travellers
(including such celebrities as American actor Ashton Kutcher) have already
signed up for the two-hour, $200,000-a-seat experience.
But until those
flights become financially attainable for more tourists, it’s unlikely that space
travel will rival air travel.
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