Canadians who paid out-of-this-world ticket prices could soon be space-bound
People float in a zero gravity airplane in an undated handout photo. About two dozen affluent Canadians are among hundreds of eager travellers who may become space tourists in the coming months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Steve Boxall, Zero Gravity Corporation
MONTREAL -- About two dozen affluent Canadians mainly from Ontario and Alberta are among hundreds of people who are in line to become space tourists in the coming months.
They have already reserved a suborbital flight on a Virgin Galactic space plane by putting a deposit on a $US250,000 ticket.
But the head of the Canadian branch of the Space Tourist Society predicts it could be at least a decade before costs come down enough to allow the average Canadian to boldly go where they haven't gone before.
"It's going to happen sooner or later," Azam Shaghaghi said in an interview. "Hopefully, in the next 10 to 15 years it would be really affordable to fly back and forth."
She added the goal of her L.A.-based international organization is "to educate people that space travel is not just for millionaires and the elite, but for ordinary people."
The unofficial race to get tourists into space appears to be in the home stretch as two companies, including billionaire Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, hope to launch sometime this year or in 2019.
Branson said recently he will be one of Virgin Galactic's first space tourists "within months."
The company suffered a setback in 2014 when a test flight of its first six-person space plane, "VSS Enterprise," broke up in mid-air, killing a co-pilot. Its successor, "VSS Unity," carried out its second successful rocket-powered test flight in May after being launched from its carrier SpaceShipTwo mothership.
Branson is facing competition from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whose company Blue Origin apparently plans to start selling tickets next year for passengers.
Space thrill-seekers would travel 100 kilometres above Earth -- the edge of space -- in a six-person capsule atop a rocket. The capsule would then float back down at the end of a parachute. Blue Origin has not said what the price of the tickets would be but one report says they could cost at least $US200,000.
Shaghaghi says both companies are being cautious and don't want to take any risks.
"It's not about capital," she said. "The capital is there, they just want to make sure that they're launching successfully."
Space tourists considering buying extra flight insurance in Canada, meanwhile, may be out of luck.
"I'm not aware of any Insurance Bureau of Canada companies currently offering a product for 'space tourism,"' bureau spokesman Steven Kee said in an email.
"I'm sure the companies providing these services are building insurance into the price of the trip."
Kee said any coverage would likely be similar to the life insurance policies for skydivers -- "very expensive."
Canada can already boast of one extravagent space tourist. Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte paid about $US35 million for a 12-day visit to the International Space Station in 2009.
Houston-based Orion Span plans to launch what it calls the world's first luxury space hotel in 2021. On its website, it boasts the luxurious accommodation called "Aurora Station" will host six people at a time. If all goes according to plan, its first guests will arrive in 2022. It will cost $US 9.5 million per person for a 12-day journey.
One of the least expensive space tourism flights would be inside a capsule suspended below a helium-filled balloon.
World View Enterprises Inc. of Tucson, Ariz., is advertising low-cost "Voyager" flights about 30 kilometres up into the stratosphere in an eight-passenger gondola. The ticket price is reportedly $US75,000.
If space enthusiasts simply want to experience weightlessness, they can always pay about $US5,000 for a flight with Zero Gravity Corporation, a company in Arlington, Va.
It uses a specially modified airplane for the atmospheric adventure. The price does not include travel or lodging.
"We have a lot of Canadians fly with us on our zero gravity flights," Terese Brewster, CEO of Zero Gravity Corporation, told The Canadian Press in an email.
The late Stephen Hawking, who went up in August 2007, was among about 15 celebrities who have already floated on board one of the company's flights.
The company says children as young as eight are allowed and that flyers as old as 93 have participated.