Six great summer getaways...in space!
If you've got an adventurous spirit and a fat bank balance, these out-of-this-world holidays are for you.
When it comes to summer getaways, space enthusiasts with the means have a plethora of choices, and the rise of commercial spaceflight is making the list even longer.
From a simple trip to view a rocket launch, to an actual flight in space, there are options to suit all kinds – and all budgets. And while many new space experiences come with a hefty price tag, there are still some options for the budget traveler.
Here are six space-related trips private citizens can take:
See America's Space Centers
At the low end of the space tourism vacation plan are simple trips to NASA space centers or rocket launching sites at spaceports around the country, which come at the cost of plane tickets, a hotel stay and a rental car.
The two final space shuttle launches, set for Nov. 1, 2010 and Feb. 26, 2011, can be viewed from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., which is home to a visitor's center that offers regular tours of the spaceport and programs on U.S. spaceflight history.
Unmanned rocket launches can be seen blasting off from the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force station and from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, and occasional launches also lift off from Wallops Island in Virginia. [Full Launch Schedule]
These centers also feature museums showcasing space memorabilia and actual rockets that have made the trip to space.
Kids and adults can both get a taste of the spaceflight experience at Space Camp, at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. This program offers the chance to ride space simulators and practice a mock space mission, complete with "anomalies" thrown at participants to test their coping skills.
Escaping gravity (kind of)
To get a step closer to flying in space, try a weightless flight on a modified jet - though you will to dig a bit deeper into your pocketbook.
The Zero Gravity Corporation offers weightless experiences aboard an airplane flying parabolic curves, though these flights typically go for about $4,950 a person. The service commercializes a type of flight used by NASA on its famed "vomit comet" aircraft to train astronauts for flying in space.
Parts of the film Apollo 13 were shot during a similar ride, and at least one couple even threw a weightless wedding aboard a ZERO-G flight. These trips can be brokered through Vienna, Va.-based space tourism firm Space Adventures.
Astronaut training for sale
Train like a pro at the National Aerospace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center outside Philadelphia. This facility offers immersive space training, including centrifuge simulators that make you feel the additional G's of launch.
Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson is among NASTAR's professional clients. For $5,800, trainees can go through a rigorous two-day space training program aimed at preparing future space tourists for flights on his firm's SpaceShipTwo suborbital spacecraft.
The next step for any aspiring astronaut is to take a suborbital joyride with one of the few private firms planning to offer quick flights to outer space.
These trips would fly above 62 miles (100 km) in altitude – where space begins – but would stop shy of entering Earth orbit. Passengers will experience up to five minutes of continuous weightlessness and get the chance to gaze out at 360-degree views of space and the Earth's horizon below.
Competing firm Virgin Galactic is also planning to offer suborbital trips on its SpaceShipTwo craft, which would be carried into space by the company's WhiteKnightTwo mothership. These trips would lift off from Spaceport America in New Mexico. The price for those flights starts at $200,000.
Seeing Earth from orbit
Suborbital flights may seem downright affordable when compared to a multimillion-dollar ticket to actual Earth orbit.
Space tourists can book seats on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft (when available) and fly alongside professional astronauts to the International Space Station. These orbital tourist trips are brokered with the Russian Federal Space Agency through Space Adventures in Virginia.
Recent flights have gone for about $35 million, though prices are expected to rise to about $50 million for future seats. Soyuz slots will become scarce after the space shuttles retire next year, when the Russian spacecraft are the only option to transport astronauts to the space station.
Space Adventures has also offered a $15 million upgrade – which would allow a customer to take a spacewalk in a Russian spacesuit – in the past.
The company already has a waiting list for orbital trips, though especially eager recruits can get preferential access to available seats by paying $5 million to join Space Adventures' Orbital Mission Explorers Circle.
Shoot for the moon
Really intrepid space explorers – with uber-deep pockets - can become the first private citizens to visit the moon.
For $100 million, avid space tourists can book a seat aboard a dedicated Soyuz flight that would take them to orbit around the moon, offering up-close views of the lunar surface. This voyage, also available through Space Adventures, would allow for two paying passengers and one professional astronaut steering the ship.
No one has yet flown a private lunar flight, but the option is on offer.