It’s one small step for Virgin Galactic . . . and one giant check to write for humankind. As of February 16, spaceflight is back on sale: Today Virgin Galactic reopened online registration for its first commercial flights beyond the Earth’s atmosphere—90-minute, four-passenger journeys that mark the beginning of citizen space tourism.
A limited number of reservations are available for these historic trips, slated to start in late 2022, and a limited number of intrepid travelers will be able to afford the $450,000 ticket. Bookings began as far back as 2014, when high-profile passengers—the Brad Pitts and Lady Gagas of the world—reserved a seat in space for $250,000 apiece. Following successful test flights last summer with Virgin Group founder and billionaire Sir Richard Branson onboard, Virgin Galactic resumed reservations in August with a “purposeful range of product offerings,” CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement.
“For the private astronaut flights, our products will include a single seat, multi-seat couples, a families and friends package, and a full-flight buyout,” he said. “Prices for this next phase of private astronaut sales will begin at $450,000 per seat. Microgravity research and professional astronaut training flights remain priced at $600,000 on a per seat equivalent basis.”
Given that there isn’t, say, a Kayak for spaceflights yet, all of this begins on the virgingalactic.com website. Click “I want to make a spaceflight reservation now”—which is a scary/exhilarating first step unto itself—so Virgin Galactic receives your application and adds you to the waiting list. (Note: I didn’t go so far as to apply, since I don’t want to be on the hook for a half-mil, but I did fill out the form to learn more about any to-be-determined, way-in-the-future flights. Because why not?!)
By securing a reservation, you also become a Future Astronaut, something akin to Virgin Galactic’s loyalty program of like-minded “pioneers” who have also registered. The company expects more than 700 Future Astronauts to fly, while also receiving access to Virgin Galactic training, tech, and tours. Curiosity-seekers can opt to stay on terra firma and simply learn more about events and experiences, STEM programs and scholarships, and merch (naturally), as well as geek out over space news with fellow amateur and professional scientists. And so, a community is born.
After the first fully crewed spaceflights took off in July 2021—Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity with Branson on July 11, and competitor Blue Origin’s New Shepherd, with founder Jeff Bezos onboard, nine days later—a private space race was officially on. Still, the pursuit of innovation and exploration isn’t without its costs; we don’t know much yet about the environmental toll of space tourism.
What we do know, however, is a little about the experience. Follow along on virgingalactic.com and you learn the following:
Aboard a winged spaceship attached to a mothership, Virgin Galactic astronauts will climb to 50,000 feet—about 20,000 feet higher than the average commercial flight—at which point the pilots will call “3, 2, 1, release” and jettison the mothership. (There’s a metaphor about motherhood somewhere in there.) Rockets flare, and the spaceship takes off for suborbit at speeds of up to 2,600 miles per hour, or about three and a half times the speed of sound.
After a one-minute burst, the rockets will go off and passengers will experience what they came all this way for: pure, magical weightlessness in microgravity and views of Earth from 17 windows. For a hospitality company like Virgin Group—Branson’s empire of airlines, hotels, cruises, and now, spaceships—it’s the epitome of a #roomwithaview. But obviously, this trip is so much more than a pretty view. “You can just stop. And look. And soak it in,” says Beth Moses, a Virgin Galactic astronaut and chief astronaut instructor, in a testimonial. “You do get a connection to the home planet . . . on a really solid, spiritual, fundamental level that just sticks with you.”
Despite how life changing that sounds, if you find it hard to commit this week (or you don’t want to sell all your worldy possessions for a ticket), don’t worry: Blue Origin is taking reservations for 2022, 2023–2024, and “2025 and beyond.”