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How much does it cost to be a space tourist?

Commercial space travel is becoming increasingly viable with companies like SpaceX and Boeing developing alternatives to Virgin Galactic's space programme.

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How much does it cost to be a space tourist?
Joe Skipper REUTERS

The race to become the first commercially-viable space tourism venture is heating up, with the number of people to have officially ‘left’ earth now seemingly growing by the week. Earlier this week Stark Trek actor William Shatner became the oldest person to travel to space, at the age of 90 years old, on the Amazon-owned Blue Origin vessel. 

In the future, seeing earth from afar could become much more accessible and the cost of flying into space is gradually falling as the technology becomes more efficient.

Of the companies vying for prominence in the nascent space tourism industry, Virgin Galactic is perhaps the most prolific. The company, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, reopened ticket sales for its space flights in August, with prices set at $450,000 a seat.

Commercialisation of space travel will continue

Over the last ten years NASA has been working with other companies like SpaceX and Boeing in the hope of developing the space tourism industry. NASA has accumulated a huge amount of knowledge over the last 60 years of human spaceflight and will be instrumental in getting new projects off the ground.

The space agency is hoping to be able to retire the International Space Station in future, and rely on space stations built and maintained by private companies instead. It is hoped that they could incorporate more modern designs and would allow NASA to essentially outsource much of the costly maintenance.

NASA Director Phil McAlister has said: "If you remember back when airline travel first debuted, it was very expensive, and it was only for the very wealthy that can afford it.

“And then entrepreneurs entered the market. Forces of competition brought prices down to the point where today, most people, not everybody, but most people can afford a flight from New York to California.”

Virgin forced to delay Galactic launch

Despite the optimism about the potential accessibility of space tourism in future, that reality is now slightly more distant after Virgin Galactic was forced to announce that it is delaying its commercial travel service until late 2022. The announcement added that the planned test flight for later this year will be postponed.

Last month the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prevented Virgin Galactic from launching the SpaceShipTwo shuttle until it had reached a conclusion on rocket flight back in July which carried founder Richard Branson to the edge of space.

The Virgin Galactic Unity 22 carried Branson and six employees into space and returned safely, but the craft deviated from its assigned airspace on descent, sparking concern about its accuracy going forward.