Holiday with a difference

2016-05-23 06:45

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If you have a few million rand lying around, you could book a ticket for a future holiday in space...

IMAGINE an hotel where at bath time you have to float around in a room filled with water bubbles because there’s no shower, and where you have to strap yourself to a bed attached to the roof, wall or floor before you can go to sleep. 

Welcome to the world of space hotels! These are luxury spaceships expected to orbit Earth within the next decade or two and will cost holidaymakers anything from R4 million to R15 million per night.

While we may have to wait a while for space’s first hotel, space tourism seems to be around the corner with companies promising (not for the first time!) that they’ll be ready to kick off within a year or two.

There are two kinds of space travel for tourists: orbital and suborbital.

Orbital travel

An orbital flight travels fast enough to go beyond Earth’s orbit. To date, the only seven space tourists in history, including South African Mark Shuttleworth, have all made orbital trips by flying to the International Space Station (ISS) on a Soyuz aircraft and spending a week up there. This programme has now been stopped as all Soyuz seats are kept for astronauts as it has become their only way to get to the ISS.

Suborbital travel

Orbital flights are technically and financially challenging for private companies, so to start off they are focusing on suborbital flights. And suborbital flights will go to just above the Kármán line, which is 100 km above Earth and the point where space officially starts. Passengers can experience a few minutes of weightlessness and, of course, see a sight which astronauts say changes one forever: our beautiful blue and green planet seen from a distance. Suborbital flights will last an hour or two.

There are several players in this market – we take a look at four of the most well-known private companies.


Cost per flight: R4 million
Number of passengers per flight: Six
Operational from: Not yet announced, probably 2017 or 2018

Virgin Galactic belongs to British entrepreneur Richard Branson. Its spacecraft is called SpaceShip Two and its launch vehicle is not a rocket but a space plane called White Knight Two. The plane carries the spacecraft 15,2 km into the sky, from where the craft uses its onboard rocket to fly to the Kármán line. More than 700 people are said to have already booked seats including celebrities Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Leo­nardo diCaprio.


Cost per flight: Not yet announced
Number of passengers per flight: Six
Operational from: Possibly 2018

Blue Origin belongs to Jeff Bezos, founder of They will use a vertical rocket and a passenger capsule. The  capsule will separate from the rocket to land back on Earth. Both rocket and capsule are called New Shepard, after NASA astronaut Alan Shepard (see page 24).

XCOR Aerospace

Cost per flight: R2,25 million
Number of passengers per flight: One
Operational from: Still a few years away

XCOR was founded by people in the American rocket industry who have developed a rocket plane called Lynx which will take off on its own power. Although they can ferry only one passenger at a time, they plan to offer several flights per day, using  reusable, non-toxic engine.


The company founded by South African-born Elon Musk has also shown interest in using its Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule for space tourism, but has not announced details yet. They currently have a contract with NASA to ferry cargo and,from 2017, astronauts to the ISS.

Why is space tourism so expensive?

Space rockets are incredibly expensive to build and can only be used once. It’s like building a Boeing 747 then throwing it away after only one flight, SpaceX’s Elon Musk once explained.

Space travel should therefore become more affordable if rockets can be reused, and this is now starting to happen. Both SpaceX and Blue Origin recently managed to return their rockets safely back to Earth after a flight (the Space Shuttle also had reusable rockets but it was almost more expensive to refurbish them after a flight than to build new ones!).

Does that mean us ordinary folk will soon be able to go on a space trip? Perhaps. But you’ll need to start saving now – and saving a lot!

Gateway to Space exhibition will be coming to Johannesburg from 1 June to 31 July. Buy your tickets here.

Read more on:    space  |  space travel

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