This September, SpaceX signed its first private customer for a trip around the Moon. Elon Musk’s first space tourist customer will be Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire, entrepreneur, art collector, and apparent space enthusiast. Maezawa will take a group of artists with him on his trip around the Earth’s faithful companion, including a film director, a fashion designer, a painter, and a musician, on board the BFR (Big F…alcon Rocket) currently under development at SpaceX. The flight is planned to take place in 2023. While Maezawa is not the first “space tourist” in history (that title is claimed by former JPL scientist and entrepreneur Dennis Tito), he will be the first to embrace the artistic side of the practice, hopefully creating a trend, bringing outer space as close as some of the top travel destinations in Europe are today, in the age of transatlantic flight.
Space tourism is, without a doubt, an ambitious dream – but it’s nothing but a dream for most of us. Spaceflight is incredibly expensive at the moment, meaning that only the wealthiest people can even think of affording it (SpaceX hasn’t disclosed how much Maezawa paid for his circumlunar flight). But it is something science fiction writers and filmmakers have predicted long ago, imagining it becoming as affordable as Elon Musk wants it to be – accessible to pretty much everyone.
One of the most prominent examples of space tourism in the mainstream science fiction literature shows up in William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”, his first novel in the “Sprawl” trilogy. In it, Gibson imagines Freeside, a space station owned by a highly influential (and wealthy) family orbiting Earth at one of the Lagrangian points (L5) and functioning pretty much like a space-based Las Vegas. The station is the key for Wintermute, an AI housed on a mainframe in Switzerland, to reunite with its “brother”, a Rio-based AI known as Neuromancer. The resort is described as being similar to Earth, filled with endless options of real-life and virtual distractions, far away from the authorities of humanity’s home planet (this also poses the question of which country’s laws apply in orbit?).
How far are we from building an orbital resort similar to the one described in Gibson’s dystopian novel? Perhaps closer than you might think. Orion Span Inc., a startup based in Houston, Texas, wants to build the “first luxury hotel in space” called “Aurora Station”. They plan to place their establishment 200 miles above the surface (about the same distance of the International Space Station) and to offer visitors (four guests, along with two crew members) a 12-day stay that includes 384 sunrises and sunsets in orbit. It won’t be cheap at first, though – Orbital Span will charge its space tourists $9.5 million, or $791,666 a night, for their stay. And they plan to open their space luxury hotel as early as 2021. The station is planned to be a modular one, meaning that – if it indeed takes off (both literally and figuratively) the company will be able to expand it to cater to the needs of its customers.
Spending your vacation in space is slowly becoming a reality – for now, in turn, it will cost quite a lot. In time, though, it will probably become as accessible as transatlantic flights are today.