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.
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.
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.