People have been dreaming of going into space for a long time. From the many space movies to iconic television shows and books, civilian space travel has been an ongoing topic for a while. The first civilians may finally be able to enter space in 2021.
Several companies and initiatives are competing to launch the first civilians into space.
It appears the Inspiration4 may be the first civilian space travel mission in partnership with SpaceX. If all goes according to plan, the world’s first four civilian astronauts will launch in 2021. The crew will launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the Apollo and Space Shuttle missions launched from. It will be between 2 and 4 days with a low earth orbit that covers 90% of the world’s population.
This mission will use the same Dragon vehicle that was successfully docked at the International Space Station with four professional astronauts in late 2020.
Sports fans watching Super Bowl LV on February 7, 2021, may recall seeing a 30-second commercial from Inspiration4 and its leader, Jared Isaacman. Jared Isaacman is the commander and benefactor. He is an accomplished pilot with experience flying commercial and military aircraft. Isaacman also flies in the charitable Black Diamond Jet Team.
This tv spot helps the average person learn about the Inspiration4 mission and encourages people to apply for the two remaining seats. In addition to being the first civilian space travel mission, Inspiration4 helps raise awareness and funds for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
The second seat is titled, Hope. A St. Jude’s ambassador with direct ties to the Inspiration4 mission will fill this seat.
The two open seats are awarded to applicants that achieve a specific social mission:
- Generosity: An individual that donates to St. Jude’s
- Prosperity: An entrepreneur that has used Shift4 Shop to launch a business
Crew selection for the remaining seats starts in March 2021. The selected crew will undergo astronaut training and fly into space on the SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft.
It appears at this time that SpaceX will be the first company to win the civilian space race if Inspiration4 materializes. SpaceX is led by entrepreneur Elon Musk, who is perhaps better known as the public face of the Tesla vehicle brand.
Currently, SpaceX is launching satellites with its Starlink program. The company has also been announcing several “space tourism” partnerships that hope to launch in the next few years.
Civilians will use the Dragon capsule that holds up to 7 astronauts. But the initial flights will only take four people to space at a time.
Axiom Space is building the first private space station where space tourists can potentially live in space for several days in the future. For now, Axiom is launching its first private-crew mission to the International Space Station in 2021.
Once civilian space travel starts, they will be guided by professional astronauts. These initial missions provide training opportunities for the space crew and companies. The first initial civilian space flight is planned for early 2022. Four people will fly to stay at the International Space Station for ten days.
Space Adventures is one of the older space tourism companies and launched in 1998. The company reports successfully sending private citizens to the International Space Station using the Russian Soyuz rocket. Space Adventures also hopes to use the SpaceX Falcon rockets to launch civilians into space from Florida.
If approved, Space Adventures will launch from Florida. There will be a five-day low-Earth orbit that won’t dock to the International Space Station. The target date is from late 2021 to early 2022.
Japanese billionaire Yusaka Maezawa is striving to be the first civilian to orbit the moon. He signed a partnership with SpaceX for this “moonshot project” to fly on the Big Falcon Rocket and complete the mission by 2023.
Blue Origin is another leading space tourism company led by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. In early February 2021, Bezos announced he was stepping down as Amazon CEO to spend more time focusing on his other projects. One of them is Blue Origin.
11-Minute Space Flights
Blue Origin will be offering low-earth orbit flights from its western Texas launch site. The New Shephard rocket system will take up to 6 civilians to the fringe of space above the Karman Line for 11 minutes.
Passengers will arrive two days before the flight to undergo training. While in space, passengers can experience the zero-G weightless experience and look out the large windows to see space and Earth. Civilians will re-enter the Earth and land in the desert near El Paso, Texas, in the capsule via parachute.
Prices for this space expedition are not publicly available on the Blue Origin website. However, some rumors indicate the ticket is at least $200,000 to $250,000 per person.
The last NASA lunar landing took place in 1972. Today, countries are interested in returning to the moon. For instance, the United States wants to send the first female to the Moon by 2024. The U.S. government has a competition to choose a new lunar lander as part of its Artemis program. If successful, people will live on the Moon full-time.
Blue Origin’s offering is the Blue Moon vehicle. There are a cargo version and a NASA Human Landing System that’s a joint effort with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.
As part of the “Virgin” family led by Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic operates from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Like the other space tourism companies, Virgin Galactic is currently in the test flight phase of its SpaceShipTwo vehicle but hopes to onboard civilians soon.
The first Virgin Galactic space flights will use SpaceShipTwo. This craft holds up to six passengers, and each ticket costs at least $250,000.
Similar to the Blue Origin New Shephard flights, only several minutes will be in space. But the total flight time from takeoff to landing will be approximately 2.5 hours.
International Space Station
In the future, Virgin Galactic will offer missions to the International Space Station. Few specifics are available in regards to cost and the number of days in space. But civilians can join the inquiry list to start the space travel process.
Civilian space travel may finally become a reality starting later in 2021. However, there are safety and government requirements to conquer first. After that, people can start traveling to the edge of space for the experience of a lifetime.