Although humans have explored much of the planet and its surroundings, some pockets remain inaccessible to all but the wealthiest.
For $100 million private citizens can fly around the moon in a Russian spacecraft and for $20 million they can visit the International Space Station.
The past few decades have seen the emergence of a new industry geared towards billionaire tourists, pioneered by some famous venture capitalists including Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk.
‘The rich, they like rocket ships,’ Donald Trump said in a 2018 cabinet meeting about private investment in space. ‘It’s good. It’s better than us paying for them.’
Those who like submarines. Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic to take private citizens into space, founded Virgin Oceanic in 2014 to explore the planet’s deepest waters.
Hamish Harding, the British billionaire, visited the Mariana Trench in 2021 aboard the missing submarine during a tour of the Titanic wreck this weekend, and a year later traveled to space with Blue Origin.
Richard Branson, known for founding Virgin Galactic, has also turned his focus to the deep ocean. In 2014 he started Virgin Oceanic to reach the deepest point in the world’s oceans. He is pictured in a submarine in 2011
Jeff Bezos founded Blue Origin, which takes tourists into space and competes directly with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic
Branson and Bezos founded Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin respectively. Bezos’ Blue Origin has taken paying customers to the edge of space in its new Shepard capsule where they experience weightlessness for a few minutes and return.
Although Blue Origin does not disclose the price of those tickets, its direct competitor, Virgin Galactic, currently sells seats for $450,000.
But other, lesser-known companies have been in business for decades and have taken billionaires not just on orbital flights, but even on trips to the International Space Station.
The advent of space tourism is associated with Dennis Tito, an American investment manager, paying $20 million in 2001 for a seven-day trip to the International Space Station.
The operation was the result of a contract between the Russian company Mircorp and the American company Space Adventures Ltd. and was seen as a way to raise money for the maintenance of the aging International Space Station.
It was established in 1998 and has since taken several ultra-wealthy private citizens to the station.
California billionaire Dennis Tito is considered the first space tourist. He is pictured emerging from a Russian Soyuz rocket in 2001
Dennis Tito, pictured with his wife in 2022, booked a flight to the moon aboard SpaceX’s Starship that year.
Since 2007 it has offered a $100 million trip around the moon in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which ‘will take you within hundreds of kilometers of the moon’s surface.’
‘It’s not just working for the government or fighter pilots or NASA, it’s now available to you and me,’ said its chairman Eric Anderson in a video promoting his trip to the ISS last year.
‘We have changed what it means to be an astronaut. Space Adventure is the original space experience company that gives private citizens the opportunity to fly in space,’ he added.
Some of its clients include Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, Microsoft software engineer Charles Simoni, and computer game developer Richard Garriott.
It hosted the flight of Japanese billionaire and fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawato to the ISS in December 2021.
‘I’m very curious, “What is life like in space?” So, I plan to find out on my own and share it with the world,’ Maezawa said in a statement earlier that year. Within months of completing that trip, he said he would travel to the Mariana Trench.
The 47-year-old announced in December that he would travel around the moon with Musk’s rocket and satellite company SpaceX sometime this year, making him the first private passenger on a SpaceX moon mission.
Space Adventures Ltd. hosted Japanese billionaire and fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawato’s flight to the ISS in December 2021
Laliberté paid $35 million for a 10-day trip to the International Space Station and became Canada’s first space tourist
Space tourism has become a way to finance expensive and unprofitable trips to space in the hope that research and technological advances will eventually lower the cost.
Mike Gould, NASA’s associate administrator for space policy and partnerships, told The Washington Post in 2018 that such sponsorships are useful.
‘Just like in the early days of aviation, with barnstorming, these early activities will help build the infrastructure and foundations that can lead to future innovations that, frankly, we can’t imagine right now,’ he said.
NASA’s website suggests that reaching low-Earth orbit is analogous to the summit of Everest — which has become increasingly accessible over the years but was once reserved only for the exceptionally wealthy.
Between the early 20th century and the 1970s, attempts to summit Everest were extremely expensive and rare – only skilled and determined climbers bothered.
From the 1990s onwards climbing Everest became increasingly commercialized and the costs fell drastically. In recent decades a climber could spend anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 to climb the world’s highest peak.
The number of commercial climbs on Everest has gone from almost zero in the 1970s to about 600 in 2019. The mountain has become overpopulated in recent years, preventing climbers from descending properly
One of the most famous commercial ascents of Everest was documented by journalist John Krakauer, who convinced his employer, Outside Magazine, to finance a summit attempt in 1996 that he would write about.
‘The simple fact is that I knew better but went to Everest anyway. And in doing so I was a party to the death of good men, which is apt to linger long upon my conscience,’ he concludes the preface to a memoir.
Above 7,500 meters, known as the mountain’s death zone, commercial climbers swarmed the mountain and traffic storms prevented climbers from descending, killing eight climbers.
‘Trying to climb Everest is an inherently irrational act – a triumph of desire over sensibility,’ he wrote in the introduction to a memoir.
According to The Himalayas by the Numbers, a compilation of Himalayan expedition records, the number of commercial ascents of Everest has risen from nearly zero in 1970 to nearly 600 in 2019.
In a famous photo taken on Everest in 2019, many commercial mountaineering tourists are seen lined up along a path near its summit.
In this photo taken in May 2019, a long line of climbers is on a route on Mount Everest. A week ago, about half a dozen climbers died while descending from the densely populated peak
In 2014 a Google executive, Alan Eustace, made headlines after jumping from a balloon near the top of the stratosphere. He was carried to an altitude of about 130,000 feet in a space suit by a helium-filled balloon.
After the jump he spent about 15 minutes falling to earth equipped with a parachute, a jump for which he broke the Guinness World Record.
Texan billionaire Jim Clark has spent more than $15 million on a 100-foot yacht known as the Comanche in hopes of building the ‘fastest boat ever built’.
Billionaire plan to conquer uncharted territory criticized.
Prince William told the BBC in 2021 that rich people should not focus on the search.
“We need to put some of the world’s best brains and minds into repairing this planet, not trying to find the next place to go and live,” he said.
‘[It] It’s really important to focus on this [planet] Rather give up and try to go to space and think about future solutions.’
Similarly, Bill Gates attacked Elon Musk for investing his money in rockets, not vaccines. He told the BBC earlier this year: ‘Going to Mars is actually quite expensive. You can buy a measles vaccine and save $1,000 to save a life.’
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