For nearly six decades the opportunity to travel into space has been reserved for a select few individuals known as astronauts. These men and women have undergone exhaustive training and spent years in preparation just for the chance to slip away from Planet Earth and venture into the heavens above.
But, that could all change over the next few years as a number of companies inch ever closer to making commercial space travel a genuine possibility. If you've ever dreamed of orbiting our planet – or even visiting the moon – your chance may be coming sooner than you might think. Here is our list of five companies that are working to make commercial space travel a reality.
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If there is one company that is close to making true commercial space travel a reality its probably Space X. The company has been using its own reusable rocket system to deliver payloads to the International Space Station – and send satellites into orbit – for a couple of years now, proving that an privately run space program could be viable. But recently Space X made headlines when it announced that it was sending a pair of tourists to the moon in 2018. The identity of those travelers has not been revealed yet, nor has the price that they've agreed to pay. But if successful, this experiment will not only user in a new age in space travel but return humans to the moon for the first time in more than 40 years.
As if that wasn't enough, Space X CEO Elon Musk has also hinted that he hopes to send manned missions to Mars starting as early as 2022.
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Space X isn't the only company with designs on sending commercial travelers into space. Blue Origin has also announced its intention of launching paying customers into orbit and has even shown off the interior of its manned capsule. Test flights are expected to begin later this year, with the first commercial liftoffs scheduled for 2018. The company's ambitions are a bit less ambitious than its rivals however – at least for now. The flight will only last about 11 minutes and carry travelers up to suborbital levels, which should make the price a lot more accessible as well.
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Virgin Galactic likes to bill itself as the "world's first commercial space line," but the truth is, the company has yet to make a commercial flight. Still, it continues to make steady progress towards that goal despite some serious setbacks. Now, the company believes it will begin taking paying customers into space in 2018 for the low price of just $250,000. The company uses a different approach than its competitors, launching its suborbital craft – dubbed the SpaceShip Two – from the back of a seconds plane called the WhiteKnight Two. That aircraft carries the SpaceShip Two into the upper atmosphere, where it detaches and ignites its own rocket engines to complete the flight into low Earth orbit. More than 500 people have reportedly already reserved a spot on board the high tech aircraft, which has been in development and testing for years.
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Another company that is thinking a bit differently about its space travel plans is World View Enterprises. Rather than using expensive rockets and dangerous experimental aircraft, WVE will instead employ a high-altitude helium balloon, attached to a specially designed capsule, to slowly and gently carry passengers to the very edge of the atmosphere. Test flights have been conducted over the past couple of years, with those flights approaching 100,000 feet in altitude. The first official launches are now scheduled to take place later this year at an estimated price of about $75,000.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Boeing has been making jet liners for decades and owns about 43% of the commercial aircraft market. While private space travel is still in its infancy, the company isn't about to allow a bunch of start-ups to eat into what could potentially be a big moneymaker in the future. To that end, the aerospace engineers at Boeing have been designing a spacecraft called the CST-100 Starliner that will one day shuttle crew and supplies to the International Space Station, and possibly take tourists into orbit too. The reusable capsule can accommodate up to seven passengers and is designed to be efficient and cost effective. The first test launch for the Starliner has been delayed until 2018, but if all goes well, it could open a new era of space travel.
So what does this all mean for travelers? It means that if you've always dreamed about going into space, than you'll have your first real chance in the next year or two. That is, provided you have plenty of money.