When the Space Age dawned in 1957, there were only two players: the USA and the USSR. The USA won the space race by being first to the Moon, though the USSR enjoyed its own successes. But here we are only a few decades later, and the USSR appears to be fading away while China is surging ahead.
Nothing’s more emblematic of China’s surge than its Tiangong space station.
You’re an excited, spacefaring passenger strolling about a pressurized cabin approximately 30 kilometers (20 miles) above the Earth. Your trip is scheduled for six hours, and you’ve already consumed the world-class food and drinks to complement this awesome view from Spaceship Neptune, which is provided by Space Perspective, the World’s First Carbon-Neutral Spaceflight Experience Company. But now you’re three hours into your trip and you have to go to the bathroom. Don’t worry, that’s where the Space Spa comes in, which was recently unveiled as one of the many features offered by Space Perspective as part of its spaceflight experience. An important aspect is paying customers, which Space Perspective refers to as Explorers, will be able to catch the great view even while taking a break in the Space Spa, with Space Perspective posting detailed images of the Space Spa to its official X page.
Virgin Galactic sent its first privately funded adventurers — and its first space sweepstakes winners — past the 50-mile space boundary today.
The tourists on the suborbital space trip known as Galactic 02 included Keisha Schahaff, who won two tickets in an online contest organized by the Omaze charity sweepstakes platform and a nonprofit group called Space for Humanity in 2021. She and her daughter, Anastatia Mayers, became the first mother-and-daughter duo to share a spaceflight, and the first spacefliers from the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda.
“I kind of feel like I was born in this life for this,” Schahaff, a wellness coach, told NBC’s “Today” show. Her daughter is a college student who aims to become an astrobiologist.
Jon Goodwin — an 80-year-old British adventurer who competed as a canoeist in the 1972 Olympics — also broke barriers on today’s Galactic 02 flight. In 2005, he was one of the first customers to reserve a spot with Virgin Galactic, back when the price was $200,000. Then, almost a decade ago, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Today he became only the second person with Parkinson’s to take a space trip. (The first was NASA shuttle astronaut Rich Clifford.)
After a two-year hiatus, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity resumed flying crew members beyond a 50-mile-high space milestone, marking the end of a years-long flight test program and setting the stage for the start of commercial service as soon as next month.
It was the first launch of the Unity rocket plane from its VMS Eve carrier airplane since July 2021, when company founder Richard Branson took a ride. Branson said he was “proud” to be watching from Spaceport America in New Mexico when Unity took flight.
During today’s suborbital flight test, known as Unity 25, the rocket plane sent two pilots and four other Virgin Galactic employees to a maximum height of 54.2 miles, at a top speed of Mach 2.94.
Twenty-one years after becoming the first paying passenger to visit the International Space Station, California financial analyst Dennis Tito and his wife, Akiko Tito, are taking on a new space adventure: a trip on SpaceX’s Starship super-rocket around the moon and back.
On September 12, Blue Origin New Shepard mission, NS-23, failed just over one minute into an uncrewed flight, forcing the escape system to eject its New Shepard upper stage capsule, which landed safely near the launch site. Several science experiments were being carried onboard with the original flight plan calling for the capsule to reach an altitude of a little more than 60 miles, which is internationally acknowledged as the edge of space. While the flight was uncrewed and the capsule made a successful soft landing after ejecting, the scenario could have been far more ill-favored if the flight had been crewed with tourists.
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and two crewmates have returned to Earth after an 11-day mission to the International Space Station that was marked by online innovations including an NFT drop and a lottery giveaway.
Maezawa, his production assistant Yozo Hirano, and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin took a 3.5-hour ride from the station on a Soyuz craft, climaxing in a touchdown amid the steppes of Kazakhstan around the appointed time of 0313 GMT (9:13 a.m. local time) Dec. 20.
After the landing, the three spacefliers were helped out of the capsule and given medical checks.
The short-duration stay was the first private astronaut trip to the space station brokered by Virginia-based Space Adventures in 12 years. In an interview with The Associated Press, Maezawa said reports that he paid more than $80 million for the adventure were “pretty much” accurate.
“Once you are in space, you realize how much it is worth it by having this amazing experience,” he told AP. “And I believe that this amazing experience will lead to something else.”
Even though Texas-based Axiom Space hasn’t yet sent its first crew of customers to the International Space Station, NASA is giving the company an opportunity to send a second crew, potentially just months later.
NASA says it will begin negotiations with Axiom on a space station mission scheduled sometime between the autumn of 2022 and the late spring of 2023. Under a pricing policy laid out earlier this year, NASA would charge $10 million to support each private astronaut during their stay in orbit, plus extra charges for food and supplies.
It’ll cost tens of millions more for the ride to the space station and back. The three customers who have signed up for Axiom’s first space station mission in February are reportedly paying $55 million each, which includes the fare for a trip in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule.
Maezawa, production assistant Yozo Hirano and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin rode a Soyuz capsule into orbit from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, with launch coming at 0738 GMT December 8 (12:38 p.m. local time, 2:38 a.m. EST).
Hours later, the Soyuz docked with the station, and the trio floated inside to meet the orbital outpost’s seven other spacefliers. Maezawa was all smiles as he greeted family and friends back on Earth over a video link.
Before liftoff, the 46-year-old entrepreneur and art collector said he was looking forward to his journey.
“I feel excited like an elementary student waiting for a school trip,” he said at a news conference. “I want to see the Earth from space, float in zero gravity, and see how I will change through this experience. I was blessed with this opportunity, and I’m truly happy I can go.”
A wellness coach from Antigua and her daughter are getting tickets for a suborbital space trip, thanks to the latest in a line of out-of-this-world sweepstakes going back 20 years. And although not a single spaceflight sweepstakes winner has flown yet, there’s still significant value to such contests, financially and otherwise.
“Being able to give people of all ages and backgrounds equal access to space, and in turn, the opportunity to lead and inspire others back on Earth, is what Virgin Galactic has been building towards for the past two decades,” Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, said in a Nov. 24 news release.
Branson himself broke the good news to Keisha Schahaff at her home on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Schahaff had entered a contest arranged in collaboration with the Omaze online sweepstakes platform and a nonprofit group called Space for Humanity this summer. She ended up winning the random drawing. Her grand prize? Two tickets for a ride on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity rocket plane, plus terrestrial travel expenses.