Space tourists head to the stars—and soon, to the moon

International Space Station, photo by NASA

If your wish upon a star was ever to actually visit one, all it now takes is a trip to Kazakhstan and a briefcase with $35 million to make it come true. At least that’s the basic charge (give or take a few million) of the 10-day package trips to the International Space Station sold by Space Adventures.

The Soyuz spacecraft takes off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the remote Central Asian steppes, the same place where the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, blasted off from. So far, only eight people have taken up the offer since 2001, but those who have, returned with very real stars in their eyes.

After his own flight in 2008, video game pioneer Richard Garriott described the impact of the trip:

My space flight is something that will live with me forever. Being one of the elite few who have seen Earth from the perspective of space, I have the opportunity to inspire and motivate others to achieve their dreams.

The sentiment was echoed by Guy Laliberte, the Cirque du Soleil founder and first artist in space, who called his trip in 2009 a “Poetic Social Mission,” and said  “it’s worth every penny and more” in a news conference.

But even if you have a spare $35 million in your sofa cushions, don’t just expect to just show up on the day of the launch. Tourists must train for five months in the basics of outer space travel and navigating zero gravity, as Tom Shelley, president of Space Adventures, explained to CNN

They learn how to go about daily life in space — how to prepare food, go to the bathroom, keep themselves clean, and perform scientific experiments when they’re on board.

Looking at the experience description, which includes circling the Earth every 90 minutes, floating in weightlessness, and even taking a spacewalk, it’s not hard to feel excitement – almost enough to forget the possibility of exploding in a ball of fire or being sucked into the vacuum of space.

Another trip planned to launch in 2018 takes it even further, flying “two private citizens and one professional cosmonaut” around the Moon – dark side and all – coming within 60 miles of the lunar surface. Compared to that, the multi-thousand-dollar tours to just meet cosmonauts, explore the facilities, and watch the launch courtside, feel almost like a letdown. A cheaper letdown, but a letdown all the same.

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