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A rendering of the "Orbital Yacht Destiny," a project Spencer hopes to get funding for. (Design concept by John Spencer/art work by Jeff Coatney)

The Final Frontier: Adventures in Space Tourism

Intelligent Travel contributor and veteran space writer Lisa T.E. Sonne last looked deep for IT, writing about James Cameron’s record dive to the ocean’s deepest depths. Now she looks up, at tourism in space. 

A wedding in a space hotel that travels more than 17,000 miles an hour — with a view of Earth.

Sky diving from space as an extreme sport.

Cosmic yachts that offer Jacuzzis in space.

These were just some of the possibilities raised at a recent Space Experience Economy seminar I attended in Los Angeles.

The experts and entrepreneurs brought together by John Spencer, founder of the Space Tourism Society,  also examined the space tourism opportunities that are already available.

The president of Space Adventures, Tom Shelly, shared via Skype that his company has sold one ticket to the moon, an odyssey that could have the historic glory of being the first privately financed voyage to the moon. Now, he’s looking for one more intrepid, affluent (the current sticker price is $150 million) passenger to purchase a seat in a Soyuz capsule for a lunar fly-by — something humans haven’t done since the Apollo era.

Space Adventures is the first (and, so far, only) company to send private citizens to space — and has sent six more voyagers since Dennis Tito pioneered space tourism more than a decade ago.

About 900 private citizens have already purchased reservations for spaceflight trips planned by Space Adventures, XCOR, and Virgin Galactic. Orbital flights will include circling the earth every 90 minutes and may someday even include docking at the International Space Station. Sub-orbital flights will take passengers to the edge of space (about 62 miles/100 km from Earth) for some cosmic views and weightless wonder, then back down again. Virgin Galactic is currently collecting $200,000 from people who want to reserve their spot in history “among the first 1,000 humans to have traveled to space.”

More than 7,000 non-astronauts have already experienced brief periods of simulated space travel — floating in microgravity onboard the jets of a company called Zero G. The current price is $5,000 for an individual to board an airplane that will fly parabolas, creating brief periods of “weightlessness” — the way NASA did with the “Vomit Comets” it used in its astronaut training program.

For those who can’t afford to send their bodies to space, a start-up company is preparing to let Earth-bound people use robotics to become space explorers. Through the fundraising website Kickstarter, people can rent time on a satellite named ArduSat, a 4’x4′ orbiter dedicated to open-source exploration that may help make space exploration cheaper, faster, and more accessible. In exchange for a $500 donation through Kickstarter before July 15, Nano-Satisfi says it will provide a week of experiment time in space.

And, like any good tourist venture, ArduSat also offers photo opps. People can pay for the chance to take photos from space by remote control.

Say cheese!