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Your options for commercial space travel (and the astronomical price tags) Arthur C. Clarke, who correctly predicted a great deal of things about science, including the invention of communications satellites, thought himself hopelessly optimistic when he imagined, in 1948, that men might visit the moon..


Your options for commercial space travel (and the astronomical price tags)

Arthur C. Clarke, who correctly predicted a great deal of things about science, including the invention of communications satellites, thought himself hopelessly optimistic when he imagined, in 1948, that men might visit the moon during his lifetime. And yet, 21 years later, there he was, wiping away a tear as he watched Neil Armstrong's fateful first step. He might have been moved to assume, at that moment, that plenty of people-even untrained folks like himself-might soon have a chance to take a trip to space.The moon landing, however, did not signal the dawn of a new era of space travel, but rather the end of one; with the Space Race clearly over, the U.S. and the Soviet Union both muted their gung-ho emphasis on manned space flights, leaving would-be space tourists in the lurch.Sure, if you really wanted a rough-and-tumble ride into orbit, you could always rely on the cash-starved Russian space program, which willingly took on space tourists in a post-Perestroika economy. With a little training, the Russians sent a a handful of people, including a Japanese journalist, a British chemist, and a South African computer tycoon, on trips to both the Mir Space Station and the International Space Station (ISS). These adventures in space tourism-or "spaceflight participation," as NASA calls it-came with a hefty $28 million price tag, making space tourism essentially a bored millionaire's pastime.Times have changed. Not even Arthur C. Clarke could have guessed how private industry would quietly take the reins, seriously reducing the price of space flight. A two-hour suborbital trip with Virgin Galactic, for example, is slated to cost $200,000-unless, that is, you happen to be William Shatner, who was offered a free ride by Virgin's Richard Branson in 2006 (despite his years of experience as a fake space captain, Shatner declined the offer, saying, "I do want to go up, but I need guarantees I'll definitely come back.")Future astronauts, take note: these are some the companies that will fly you to the moon (or get you a little closer), so you better get acquainted with them now.VIRGIN GALACTIC With sub-orbital flights on their six-passenger craft, the VSS Enterprise-a sexed-up revision of the X-Prize-winning SpaceShipOne-is set to begin service in late 2009 from Spaceport America, outside of Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico. Virgin Galactic will undoubtedly be the first commercial space company to send paying customers to space in its own ships. And, with some $30 million in pre-sale bookings from customers looking forward to releasing themselves from their seats and floating around the cabin for six minutes as they peer at the Earth from space, they'd better be.www.virgingalactic.comETA: 2009Cost: $200,000SPACE ADVENTURES, LTDIf Virgin Galactic is the young buck, then Space Adventures is the workhorse. Founded in the late '90s, it's the only company to have sent paying customers to space. By facilitating lucrative deals between the Russians and the millionaires who have thus far traveled to orbit, it's almost singlehandedly kept the Russian space program afloat. Never shy of pushing the envelope, they've now added a $15 million spacewalk option for their clients, a $100 million lunar mission, begun developing two commercial spaceports (one in Dubai, of course), and announced plans to build a fleet of space liners.www.spaceadventures.comETA: Anytime!Cost: $102,000-100 millionEADS Astrium An offshoot of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, EADS Astrium announced its intentions to send paying customers into space in 2007. One short flight on their sub-orbital hybrid craft-a four-passenger capacity space jet capable of climbing up to 100 km in altitude-would set you back almost $300,000, but give you three awesome minutes of weightlessness.www.astrium.eads.netETA: 2012Cost: $300,000BLUE ORIGINWith a motto like "Gradatim Ferociter" (step by step, ferociously), Blue Origin makes no bones about its utopian dream of "patiently...lower[ing] the cost of spaceflight so that many people can afford to go and so that we humans can better continue exploring the solar system." The pet project of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, it's already built and launched an innovative (albeit cute and stubby) vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing rocket called the New Shepard, which they plan on placing in suborbital commercial service in 2010 with flights about once a week.public.blueorigin.comNew Shepard launch on YouTubeETA: 2010Cost: TBDBIGELOW AIRSPACEBankrolled by the owner of the Budget Suites hotel chain, Bigelow Airspace is one of the first companies to start serious work on space hotels. The hardest part is already behind them, since they've already built inflatable space habitats based on designs from an abandoned NASA program called Transhab, launched a bunch of test modules (including one fit to be called the world's first commercial space station), and made convincing plans to string these roomy, inflatable pods into a giant space resort, launching as soon as 2010. Another potential use for these Transhab pods? "Space yachts."www.bigelowaerospace.comETA: 2012Cost: $15 million for a 4-week stay
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