space travel, space tourism, blue origin, space x, astronauts, falcon heavy, travel to space, commercial space flights

The State of Space Tourism

How healthy you need to be to travel beyond Earth

In 1903, the Wright brothers flew the world’s first airplane. In 1969, man walked on the moon. And this year, another major aeronautical achievement will go down with historical significance: space will become a tourist destination.

In July 2005, Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Galactic, announced that the company would send ordinary people to space (just outside Earth’s atmosphere and back) in the not-so-distant future. Tickets sold out immediately for the inaugural flight and they have since sold 700 tickets, including one each to Ashton Kutcher, Katy Perry, and Leonardo DiCaprio. (The launch date is still TBD, though Branson has said it’s happening in 2018.)

Since, others have teased the opportunity for space travel, like Tesla-founder Elon Musk’s SpaceX and founder/CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin. Along with Bezos, they're racing to offer hypersonic (five times the speed of commercial airplane) flights starting this year.

Rocket ships from each company have had successful test glides. Most recently, SpaceX Falcon Heavy made it to space. It is the most advanced (and fastest) rocket to launch from US soil, promising to transport people safely as far as the moon in late 2018—and Elon Musk’s dream of building a civilization on Mars is one step closer.

Here, some of the most pressing space-related questions athletes may have—and their answers.

How fit must you be for a flight outside of Earth's atmosphere and back?

“We encourage our future astronauts to live a fit and healthy lifestyle so that medical issues are at a minimum and their enjoyment of the spaceflight will be maximized,” says Christine Choi, a spokesperson for Virgin Galactic. All travelers must undergo exams (similar to a regular physical) to determine if they can fly. However, they “do not need to be in peak fitness and health like the career astronauts who spend months on the International Space Station.” And, physical fitness is not as important as mental fitness, it turns out. Passengers must be able to handle anxiety, a factor that is closely examined during the three-day pre-flight training for Virgin.

So, you have to train for these missions?

Yes. Blue Origin offers a two-day training that includes a safety briefing, mission simulation, and instructions on maneuvering in a weightless environment. Choi says Virgin Galactic astronauts will be trained on how to handle g forces, specifically. Deep breathing exercises and tensing up calves so the blood stays in your head are two ways to combat any potential negative effects of gravitational stress.

What are the potential negative effects?

At worst, you might feel nauseous or dizzy on spaceflights under three hours; it’s not much different from the effects you could expect on a rollercoaster. According to an article in The Detroit News, Dr. James Vanderploeg, chief medical officer for Virgin Galactic, says researchers spent years testing the effects of extreme g forces on people and they “do just fine.”

What will the actual flight be like?    

A Virgin Galactic flight outside Earth’s atmosphere and back is under two hours. “The g forces are manageable and time in zero gravity is a few minutes,” says Choi. That means the passengers, donning custom-fit flight suits, will get to unbuckle and take in the scenic views of Earth while floating around the cabin.

A Blue Origin flight is shorter, clocking in at about 40 minutes. Inside, the windows are huge by aircraft standards; six windows are each 42.7” x 28.6” (compared to a commercial airline Boeing 747’s 15.3” x 10.8” windows).

Flights around the moon, and ultimately to Mars, will be a much bigger time investment; between 128 to 333 days.

How do I sign up?

Travel agencies, like Space Adventures and the Intergalactic Travel Bureau, can help you get started. The latter offers virtual space trips, but also works with Virgin Galactic and SpaceX on reservations for actual flights. You can also sign up on each respective company’s website.

Photo: Getty Images