Space travel

Ready to book a space flight?

Courtesy NASA

(This is a slightly different version of a story we prepared for NBC News)

A trip to space has rocketed to the top of travel bucket lists for those who can afford it, after successful suborbital jaunts by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and SpaceX’s recent launch of four civilians into orbit.

The well-publicized trips are bringing space travel up a notch on an extreme — and pricey — travel menu that already includes adventures such as climbing Mount Everest, skiing in Antarctica, and a wilderness safari in Africa.

“For many extreme adventure travelers, we are there now where space is as accessible as Mount Everest and other places,” said Joshua Bush, CEO of luxury travel agency Avenue Two Travel and an accredited space agent for Virgin Galactic. “It will take a sizeable budget and a lot of planning — but the successful launches this past summer indicate all systems go.”

While many people inquiring about booking space travel are aviation and space enthusiasts, others see this as “the next great adventure to a place fewer than 1,000 people have been to before,” Bush said. “Others see this as the dawn of a new industry and how they, too, can be pioneers.”

“These future astronauts all have unique and personal reasons for going. Their common thread is a passion just to go,” he said.

There are more ways for people to get to space now than ever before, said Geoff Nunn, adjunct curator for Space History at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

“Space is definitely opening up. There are other options for those who might want something more ambitious,” Nunn said, including space tourism company Space Adventures, which books flights to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

For suborbital flight tickets, “Virgin Galactic already has a waiting list of about 600 customers who reserved flights for $250,000. However, the company recently raised its prices to $450,000 a seat, and increased the deposit to $149,000,” Nunn said.

Blue Origin has not yet made its prices public, but the company auctioned off a seat on its first spaceflight for $28 million.

There are some lower-cost options to get a seat on a space flight.

Later this month, Virgin Galactic and charity fundraising platform Omaze will announce the winner of a contest held over the summer to give away a pair of seats on an upcoming commercial spaceflight.

But even with a ticket, the wait time to get on a commercial suborbital flight may be long.

For suborbital there will be very limited opportunities over the next few years,” said Tom Shelley, president of Space Adventures. “Virgin and Blue Origin have demonstrated their long-talked-about capability. But now they need to go from showing it can be done once to doing these safely and regularly.”

That could take years, Shelley said. “But this is the beginning of that transition from being a dream and a possibility, to becoming a regular scheduled flight reality.”

While waiting and saving up for their space flights, citizen astronauts have other issues to consider.

“Leaving the atmosphere is hard, and you want to make sure you understand the danger and the safety precautions in place before agreeing to go,” Nunn said. “Regulations around space tourism are still being worked out and participants fly under informed consent requirements for the time being.”

Missed opportunity?

Back in 2012, Gregory Schneider won a ticket for a suborbital space trip, presented to him by astronaut Buzz Aldrin, in a contest sponsored by Seattle’s Space Needle and Space Adventures. Contestants had to complete a series of challenges, including a tethered outdoor walk on the top of the 520-foot-tall Space Needle.

“The prize was for a flight that was going to be on a rocket being built by Armadillo Aerospace, which went out of business a few years later,” Schneider said. “Then, one of the Virgin Galactic spaceships exploded, and it seemed like this space trip wasn’t going to be happening any time soon.”

Schneider asked for the $110,00 cash value of the prize and paid off his law school student loans.

Now that suborbital flights are a reality, Schneider says he is “a little nostalgic and a little disappointed” that he no longer has a ticket.

“But I’m optimistic that the technology will improve, and the price will come down,” he said.

You can go to space too! For free. Or with a donation.

That was pretty darn exciting to see Virgin Galactic take Richard Branson on a trip to space.

Want to take that trip too? An estimated 600 people are ahead of you, having put down $250,000 for tickets over the years Virgin Galactic has been working out the technology. Many others have deposits banked for when more tickets go on sale.

However, those of us short on discretionary space travel cash but big on the idea of a trip to space have another shot at being shot into space.

Virgin Galactic and fundraising company Omaze are running sweepstakes with a grand prize of two seats on a future commercial spaceflight.

You can enter for free. But you get additional entires, plus a chance to help make spaceflight more accessible for everyone, by making a donation of as little as $2 to Space for Humanity.

Here’s what they’re promising:

You and your guest will board a Virgin Galactic spaceship where you’ll take off smoothly, just like an airplane, and watch as the colors outside your window change from blue to indigo to midnight black…

Hovering above Earth, nothing can prepare you for the breathtaking views of our bright planet and surrounding galaxy. Or hearing “you are now free to float about the cabin.” 

Cameras throughout the cabin will record every moment in HD. With 17 circular windows for viewing, every seat is a window seat. And there’s even a mirror to watch yourself floating through space. 

Following a smooth glide descent, you’ll return back to Earth safely, but forever transformed. You’re an astronaut now.

Sound like something you’d like to do someday?

Here’s the link to enter the Virgin Galactic sweepstake for a flight to space. Start thinking about who you’d take along.

(Photos above courtesy Virgin Galactic)

Space Travel for us? Looking possible.

What can we say? Space Travel for mortals, well, rich mortals, is now much more of a reality. Thanks, Richard Branson, and your enthusiasm, for kicking it off.

EU may soon welcome back US Travelers + Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center to reopen

Sick of being stuck at home? Eyeing Europe for that first post-pandemic trip?

You may be in luck. A New York Times story on Sunday evening offers real hope that you may be able to head that way. Perhaps as early as this summer.

According to the NYT, the EU is Set to Let Vaccinated U.S. Tourists Visit This Summer.

Nonessential travel into EU countries from the US has been shut down for more than a year. But European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tells the New York Times that the union’s 27 members will accept people who are vaccinated with vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (E.M.A.). The agency gives the OK to the three vaccines being used in the United States: Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson.

“The Americans, as far as I can see, use European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines,” von der Leyen said. “This will enable free movement and travel to the European Union.”

No exact timeline for easing the travel restrictions is set. And discussions are still underway on how to create a safe and technologically reliable way for travelers to show a vaccine certificate. But on Monday Greece plans to begin opening its borders to travelers who show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test.

More information will likely come out this week. But, yay!? Are you ready to go?

Until the EU is open, how about a trip to space?

Mercury MR-3, “Freedom 7” and Apollo 11 Command Module, “Columbia. ” Smithsonian Photo by Mark Avino

While the National Air & Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington D.C. remains closed for now, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, near Washington Dulles International Airport, announces it will reopen on Wednesday, May 5.

Free, timed entry passes are available. And masks, of courses, are required of all visitors. But this is good news for avgeeks and space fans alike.

In celebration of the 60th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s historic spaceflight on May 5, 1961, the Mercury capsule Freedom 7 is now on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center. That capsule sits next to command module Columbia, which took the Apollo 11 astronauts to the Moon and back in 1969. (Above)

This Blue Angels F-18 Hornet is new to the collection and is now on display in the Boeing Aviation Hangar.

The Blue Angel McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet in the Boeing Aviation Hangar. Smithsonian Photo

Can’t get to the museum just yet? Check out the Air & Space Museum’s online artifact database (including some 3D images), the podcast, and other resources.

Astronauts have that isolation live/work thing down

Last week was World Space Week and Viking TV (a pandemic project of Viking Cruises) offered a full week of space-themed content.

I tuned in for the “When Space is Home” panel discussion with journalist Lynn Sherr and four former astronauts.

On the list of topics: animals in space, new toilets in space, and food in space.

And tips the astronauts might have for us about dealing with isolation.

A highlighted passage from my notes includes this advice: “Spend more time choosing your interactions and make them count more.”

The panelists you’ll hear from in the video below include:

Dr. Anna Fisher – In 1984, she was the first mother in space.

 Colonel Jack Fischer – During a 2017 mission, Fischer logged 136 days in space with two spacewalks.

Dr. Richard Linnehan – The first veterinarian in space.

Barbara Morgan – She pioneered the “Teacher in Space” program and flew on Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2007.