As Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos enter the homestretch in their quests to launch spaceflights for civilians, NASA this month opened new possibilities for the future of space tourism with an announcement that it would allow private citizens to stay at the International Space Station.
Like the $250,000-a-head spaceflights being sold by Branson's Virgin Galactic and similarly priced trips by Bezos' Blue Origin, a visit to the space station won't be cheap.
According to reports from a news conference held by NASA earlier this month, private companies that want to bring passengers to the station will have to pay it about $35,000 a night per passenger. That's without markups or the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would likely cost to fly guests there.
NASA said it will seek proposals later this month for adding a module to the space station that is owned and operated by a private company, and it will select a plan by the end of the year.
It's an interesting twist to the long-awaited launch of space tourism. After nearly a decade of delays, both Virgin and Blue Origin are hoping to get their businesses off the ground -- literally -- this year.
But those companies at the moment only have plans to offer short jaunts into space, where travelers will have the opportunity to view the Earth and experience zero gravity. Bezos' long-term vision, however, has always been to create places in space where people can live and visit.
Given the long lead time it has taken to get those initial ventures off the ground (Virgin had hoped to begin flying nearly a decade ago), it's anyone's guess when we might see overnight packages offered to the space station or what they might look like.
In the meantime, two Washington Post writers put together "A near-future tourist's guide to the International Space Station," a fictional account of a reporter 10 years from now traveling to the "the hottest luxury vacation destination in the universe."
"The International Space Station is known for many things: high altitude, low crime and, of course, the enormously elevated price of admission," they wrote. "What it hasn't been known for is its food scene. But that may be changing, with the opening of five dining experiences onboard, which include GraviTea, the casual wellness cafe, and Copernicus, an otherworldly temple of molecular gastronomy that is the first restaurant in space to be nominated for a James Beard Award.
"That's not all. Buoyed by the investment of visitors willing to throw down big money, the once-humble research facility has blossomed into a virtual oasis in the heavens, complete with exercise classes, luxury accommodations and the best views you're going to find anywhere."
Given the growth of luxury travel and the willingness of the 1% to plunk down whatever it takes to find a new experience, they might not be too far off. Nonetheless, it will be an interesting vision to check against reality 10 years from today.