The Space X Dragon capsule is already taking cargo trips to the International Space Station
The Space X Dragon capsule is already taking cargo trips to the International Space Station

The balloon that will take you to space... and other ways to play at being an astronaut

The first passenger-carrying spacecraft could leave the Earth as early as next year

Clare Vooght
Friday 04 November 2016 11:27
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Astronauts rave about the perspective-shifting ‘Overview Effect’: the sense of mental clarity and awe they experience when seeing how small the earth is from above, along with a feeling of separation from the world’s problems and a strong desire to make it a better place. Sounds pretty cool to us, and it looks like, in the not too distant future, more people will get to experience it – though at the moment, you still have to be really rich. But when these commercial space flights get off the ground, travelling by plane will be so 2016.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo

Less than 600 people have ever visited space, but the aim of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is to eventually democratise it. Its new SpaceShipTwo - which has room for two pilots and six passengers and follows a previous ill-fated aircraft that crashed in 2014 - is still being tested, but seats on the first flights have sold out at $250,000 a pop to more than 700 billionaires and celebs such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Angelina Jolie. They’ll have to do around three days of astronaut training before taking off on the futuristic winged spacecraft, and Virgin Galactic says they’ll be ready in 2017.

Virgin Galactic's first SpaceShipTwo taking its third flight

World View's near-space balloon ride

If rockets aren’t your thing, there is an alternative. Breaking the world record for highest balloon flight in the process, a company in Tucson, Arizona, has successfully finished its first phase of testing for a helium-filled balloon. When it’s ready, it will lift 20 tourists 19 miles above the ground into near space in a capsule (about 12 miles higher than commercial airlines fly). From here, intrepid balloon voyagers will be able to admire the earth’s curve below and the extending inky blackness of space above and around for around two hours before returning to Earth. Flights will cost $75,000 and engineers are hoping to get people up there as soon as next year.

World View Near-Space Balloon

Xcor Aerospace's Lynx

With its two-seater Lynx rocket-plane, California-based company Xcor plans to run at least twice-daily trips to space carrying a pilot and one passenger. It’ll land and take off horizontally like an aircraft, from a runway, and will have a maximum altitude of 64 miles – two miles higher than the traditionally agreed point at which space begins. The hour-long flight, during which passengers will experience about five minutes of weightlessness, will cost $150,000 and so far 350 people have booked tickets for its first voyages, planned to start in 2017.

Xcor Aerospace's Lynx rocket will seat two people 

Space X's Dragon

Paypal co-founder Elon Musk pledged a chunk of his personal fortune to the Space X Dragon capsule. It’s already doing cargo trips to the International Space Station, and Space X engineers are working with NASA to get humans on board. Eventually, the spacecraft will have seven seats, and they plan to sell off any spares to tourists, though there are still a couple of years testing to go. Fun fact: the Dragon’s emergency escape system, tested last year, will carry astronauts to safety at about the same G-force as a ride at Disneyland.

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