How Much Should I Save If I Want to Visit Space One Day?
What to do when your dream destination is not on this planet.
This article originally appeared on FREE.
If you’re the kind of person who’s committed to crossing the Great Wonders of the Ancient World off your bucket list, you’ve probably learned how to budget for your globetrotting adventures. But what if your dream destination is not even on the globe? That’s the case for many space enthusiasts, who have recently been given hope that they may be able to visit the final frontier within their lifetimes.
For the majority of spaceflight history, the best shot at securing a ride to space has been to train to become an astronaut. But the rigorous physical and mental demands expected of astronauts, and the intense competition for placement on missions, means that the odds of reaching space this way are fairly grim. Only 500-odd people have made the cut to be sent to space, out of thousands of worthy candidates.
However, this landscape started shifting in 2001, when the engineer Dennis Tito bought a weeklong trip to the International Space Station (ISS) for a reported $20 million USD from the company Space Adventures. A handful of other wealthy space tourists—or private astronauts, as many prefer to be called—have followed his example, paying around $20-40 million USD for the thrill of joining the station crew for short stints in space, lasting one to two weeks.
Such a hefty price tag is way beyond of the budgets of most would-be space tourists. But the commercial space industry is rapidly maturing, and many commentators, such as NASA astronaut Don Thomas, expect tickets to space to drop in pricing over the coming decades.
So how much should you plan to put aside for your outer space vacation? Like any trip, it depends on just how far you intend to go, and what kind of vehicle you want to ride in. Here are some good quotes to keep in mind as you plan your off-Earth adventure.
Suborbital Flights: $150,000-250,000
Suborbital flights are likely to be the cheapest option to get your space fix for a while, with prospective prices currently at around $150,000-$250,000 USD per person. Virgin Galactic has already sold hundreds of deposits to private customers for a seat on the company’s VSS Unity suborbital spaceplane, while Blue Origin is working on commercial suborbital rocket flights within the same price range.
While this is not exactly cheap fare, it’s an amount that could be accumulated with the same good investing habits that you might use to save for a house down payment or for a retirement nest egg. Start by calculating what the maximum age you think you’d be comfortable traveling to space would be, and how much you would have to sock away each month in order to reach that goal.
You could get an extra monetary boost by investing in the stock market or making sure to deposit a portion of any windfalls to your personal space travel fund. And if suborbital ticket prices do eventually drop under $100,000 USD, you may find that you can book your ticket much earlier than your projected date.
But you have to weigh that cost against the actual experience: While suborbital travel exceeds the Karman Line, which is designated the border to space at 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth’s surface, they are not designed to propel themselves into higher orbital trajectories around the planet.
As a result, these trips only allow for a brief trip to space, ranging from 10 minutes to a few hours, and they don’t provide as dramatic a scene as the view from a spacecraft like the ISS, which orbits 254 miles above Earth’s surface.
Orbital Spaceflight: $30-80 million
Unfortunately, it’s a lot more expensive and risky to send humans fully into Earth’s orbit than it is to blast them into suborbital space. In fact, since Tito first spent $20 million USD through Space Adventures, the company has raised its prices for trips to orbit. In 2012, the price was around $30-35 million USD, according to WIRED, while the singer Sarah Brightman is reported to have paid $52 million USD for a ticket to orbit (which she subsequently canceled).
Because orbital spaceflight is so much more complicated, dangerous, and expensive than its suborbital counterpart, it’s difficult to figure out if prices will drop to an affordable level anytime within the coming decades, especially since the future of the ISS after 2024 is uncertain. Companies like Bigelow Aerospace and Axiom Space are developing their own concepts for commercial space stations that could welcome civilian tourists, but they aren’t likely to be any cheaper than the “low eight figures,” according to CEO Robert Bigelow.
Unless you are a lottery winner, in line to inherit a substantial amount of money, or a close personal friend of a commercial space tycoon, the odds are currently against your orbital tourism dreams. In that case, why not adopt the Han Solo classic axiom: “Never tell me the odds”? It worked for Han’s ambitions of exploring outer space, so maybe it will for you too.
To the Moon, Mars, and Beyond: $150 million minimum
Space Adventures was the first company to announce a plan to send private astronauts on circumlunar trips, and reportedly sold two tickets to wealthy investors at $150 million USD each. Not only is such a bold vacation off the table for the average citizen, but it will be interesting to see how long it will take to develop the technical infrastructure to follow through on the demand for lunar tourism. Similarly, a round trip ticket to Mars is likely to cost billions for the foreseeable future, unless aliens mercifully lend us advanced technologies.
The upshot? Suborbital space is probably going to be the only affordable route for most civilian space travelers, so it’s worth shooting to save at least $100,000 USD if space travel is on your bucket list. But be sure you are ready to make the most of the experience, because it won’t be a long trip.
Follow Becky Ferreira on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on VICE ID.