If you’re imagining yourself strapping in and bracing for light speed travel across the galaxy you’ll have to temper those expectations for now.
On July 20, 2021 Jeff Bezos became the second billionaire to travel into space in just over a week. His Blue Origin space craft, named New Shepard, went as far as 60 miles up. With him Bezos took an 18 year old and an 82 year old who have now become the youngest and oldest to ever fly in outer space. This came only nine days after Richard Branson, the owner of, among other things, Virgin Atlantic, soared about 50 miles into space. From there, Branson was able to see the darkness of space and the curve of the Earth. Additionally, he unstrapped and experienced a few minutes of apparent weightlessness. Actually, this was caused less by the absence of gravity since, at that height Earth’s gravity is still rather strong, and more by the fact that he was falling at the same rate as the ship around him.
With the world’s wealthy elite (let’s not forget that Elon Musk is in this game too) other dabbling in space exploration, one really begins to wonder, “when will I be able to travel to outer space”? The answer, according to a company known as “The Gateway Foundation,” is as early as 2027. The private company is currently working on a space hotel that could accommodate 400 people. The “Von Braun” space station will be a large wheel with pods at its edge which will rotate in order to provide a sense of gravity so that people can perform basic tasks like walking and using the bathroom. It will have many of the same amenities as a cruise ship like themed restaurants and a movie theater.
So, as it seems that space travel will indeed be a vacation option in the not-too-distant future, the next question is, do we really want to travel to space? While I do love to travel by boat, I have never taken a cruise, nor do I plan to. Luxury rooms, buffets, planned activities, norovirus; none of these things interest me, but I can see the appeal to others. One activity that the Von Braun space station will offer is an opportunity to step outside of the ship — in a spacesuit of course. This part does have its appeal to me. I see it as a futuristic sort of scuba diving.
While the goal is for the Von Braun space station to eventually cost the same as a cruise, Bezos is already getting ready to take paying customers to space. In fact, his maiden voyage also took one paying customer, who filled in for someone who chose to fly later (perhaps out of caution). It only cost him a mere $28 million. Future seats are selling for close to $100 million. Virgin Galactic has around 600 customers lined up, each paying a sensible $250,000.
And while our gut reaction to the possibility of space travel might be to jump with excitement, we really must stop and wonder if it will be worth it. The flight, the weightlessness, the vastness of space, and the views of Earth are all the things of childhood dreams and must truly be incredible, but to then spend one’s time in space eating at a themed restaurant seems a bit anticlimactic. I don’t even eat at themed restaurants here on Earth.
Surveying a few dozen people online, I found that a slight majority of those I asked said they would not want to go. Those who said they would, cited things like the view or the experience of weightlessness as their reason. But the idea of space travel seemed to scare many others. Like those waiting to see the effects of the Covid-19 vaccine, some wanted to wait a while for it to become more routine. Richard Branson may have had a good experience, but not all of us are necessarily cut out for the final frontier. Remember, at one point space travel was reserved for the best and brightest, not tourists in Hawaiiain shirts and socks with sandals.
One person said that he was very happy to stay on terra firma. When I pressed him on it, he explained that he’d still rather experience Earth from the ground, not from far away. “Viewing a beautiful city from a penthouse hotel room is less fun for me,” he explained, “than staying in a hostel and actually experiencing what’s happening on the ground.” To his point, I’m not quite sure seeing the Earth from outer space is as exciting as actually participating in all that the Earth has to offer. While the views from a spaceship must be exhilarating, so too is the view of the Grand Canyon, or the view of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower, or that of a pristine beach with crystal clear waters.
Growing up I had to listen to my friends talk about the cruises they took over breaks. They seemed lavish and exotic compared to my summers spent hiking in the rain and hiding from mosquitoes in a tent and unfortunately for her, my child will have to endure the same cruise envy that I suffered. Only this time, the cruises my daughter’s classmates might be talking about will be in outer space.
Some people are lucky enough to not have to choose. They can spend money on a trip to Milan one week and a space station the next, but until I find a way to afford both, I’ll save my money for expeditions on Earth.