What is Space Tourism?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Space tourism is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: tourism in space. Space tourists book tickets on spacecraft to get a chance to experience space for themselves, on trips of varying durations. On suborbital spacecraft, for example, a space tourist might get only a few minutes in space, just enough time to experience weightlessness and get a taste for space, while other space tourists book tickets on orbital flights, traveling into space for hours or days at a time. As of the late 2000s, space tourism was largely hypothetical, but the groundwork to turn it into a major industry was being laid.

Some governments have been reluctant about the concept of space tourism.
Some governments have been reluctant about the concept of space tourism.

Humans have long been interested in space, and when manned spaceflights began launching in the mid-20th century, a number of people got very excited about the potential for space tourism. Several nations expressed an interest as well, with savvy governments and companies realizing that it could be quite profitable, when handled well. It was Russia which propelled this process from an interesting concept to a reality, taking Dennis Tito, the world's first space tourist, into space in 2001.

It will be some time before tourists will be able to visit other planets.
It will be some time before tourists will be able to visit other planets.

Some governments have been reluctant about the concept of space tourism, arguing that it is dangerous, expensive, and serves no practical purposes. Others argue that if people can afford to go and they have an interest in traveling into space, one might as well make that option available. By encouraging space tourism, governments could also benefit from the revenue, and they could establish legal boundaries, ensuring that the visits are as safe as possible for everyone.

The term “space tourism” is disliked by some people, since “tourism” has pejorative associations to some. “Personal spaceflight,” “private research,” and “civilian spaceflight” are all used as euphemisms for the phrase. Whatever one might call it, space tourism is certainly a status symbol, with people paying huge sums of money for even the briefest of suborbital flights, let alone flights on craft which are actually capable of achieving orbit. According to reports, it is also an awesome experience, giving people a chance to see the Earth from space and to experience the weightlessness and vastness of the universe.

Imaginative books and comics from the 1960s seemed to suggest that everyone would be a space tourist by 2000, merrily traveling between planets, visiting luxury space hotels, and even flying their own spacecraft. Much like flying cars and many other 1960s dreams of the future, this did not come to pass, but it doesn't mean that it won't happen some day.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@jmc88 - I can see where you are going with your point, but I am sure they could figure out a way to regulate commercial space travel. However, I can only see this happening if it were done through NASA or some government run space program. I do not see regular people that may just be engineers creating their own spaceflights.

It is possible a lucrative business can be made out of this if the government were to regulate it. I only say this to make it as safe an enterprise as possible by creating a program for this and continuing various developments over the years. I say as of right now if people want to take the risk and pay thousands to go into space they can, but do it through NASA so future developments can occur and possible further expansion of space.


One concern I have about commercial space flights is about the people that are going up into space. If there is a problem up in space only the crew will be able to deal with it and how do we know that a ship full of people will not panic.

One problem with space flights is that when there is a major problem there are no emergency landings or ways to help get people off board. There are a lot of factors like controlling oxygen supply and the vacuum of space which can end up killing many people on board.

Suppose this were to become a business and many countries were to do this. How many flights would end in a tragedy. I'd say only the United States, China, and Russia have the capabilities to have commercialized space flights, but I guarantee that many other countries will try if it becomes a lucrative enterprise and many will not have the regulation necessary to create a safe situation.

I see this as more of a problem than whether or not it is possible, it is more a case of how can it be regulated so that people can be assured they will return safely like in an airplane.


@Emilski - You may be correct in your statement, but the space industry has had nearly fifty years of technological advances and manned space flights are seen as phenomenally safe nowadays.

Although there have been some tragedies in the past, there are so many people that work to make sure the people make it into and back from space safely that it is seen as being fairly safe.

If the government were to want to make some money they could commission NASA to create a commercial program and be able to collect funding for various ventures.

If they were to do this there would be regulation of the commercial spaceflights and the government would be able to secure a lot of money. It is a win/win situation and people would not have to worry a lot about people making their own businesses and sending people to space unsafely.


Although most people are optimistic about space tourism, from what I can tell right now it still has a very long way to go before the necessary developments to make it into a regular business.

One problem that is continually addressed is of course safety. Out of the around one hundred manned launches from NASA two capsules have exploded and killed everyone on board. These were trained astronauts and tens, maybe even hundreds of millions of dollars had been put into those spacecrafts to make sure they could be able to safely sustain space and re-enter.

On a smaller scale comes less money and also with tourists involved it becomes a group of people that are not at all trained for spaceflight and could not handle the situations that the astronauts face.

I agree that it sounds like a very interesting thing to do in someone's lifetime, but space flight is a very very complex venture and it is nothing like boarding a plane. We have a long way to go before it can become a commercial enterprise.


I still have my fingers crossed that space technology will improve to the point where we will be able to take space flights for our vacations. I would love to visit the International space station or even the moon someday.

I think people would invest a lot of money in the chance to be able to set foot somewhere where you could see just how big the universe was. The trips would be educational and exciting.

Right now it still seems like space is for the truly rich, so it may be a few generations yet before people are walking freely in space.


I am actually on a mailing list that updates me about the space tourism industry because I find it to be a completely fascinating topic. Even over the last decade, space tourism has gotten much cheaper and it seems that space tourism market is really aiming to make suborbital flights just as accessible to people as flying in an airplane is now.

I really believe that if they could knock the price of a suborbital flight down to a few thousand dollars that I would save up and do it. I would be amazing to see the Earth from a completely new perspective.

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