Space explorers: we have lift-off

Space explorers: we have lift-off. Ever since Californian businessman Dennis Tito paid Russia $20 million to blast into orbit in 2001, wealthy thrill-seekers have dreamt of hitching a ride to the great beyond. The wait may be getting shorter. After a successful test flight on Thursday, Jeff Bezos’s space company Blue Origin said it would be flying people in the New Shepard rocket by the end of the year. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, has talked about starting commercial flights this year, perhaps as soon as July, after years of delay. Some customers have been waiting for their trip since 2004. Those flights will take passengers into suborbital space: high enough to cross the lower boundary of space and get an experience of weightlessness. Zero gravity can already be experienced a lot more cheaply, on specially modified jets that dive through the sky. Much more heavy lifting is needed to go into orbit. Yet last year SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced that Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire, had bought a ticket for a trip round the far side of the moon, possibly as soon as 2023… Cost aside, a space trip is not to everyone’s taste. The dangers are real, as are the discomforts… But as costs fall, the industry will get off the ground, says UBS. By 2030 space tourism could be worth as much as $3 billion a year.