- Companies are preparing to take tourists to the edge of space as soon as 2022.
- Bidding for a seat onboard a Blue Origin spaceship has reached a whopping $2.8 million.
- As voyages get longer, training regimens will make sure humans can handle the trip.
- See more stories on Insider's business page.
Companies like Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin are gearing up to send tourists to the edge of space - and eventually, beyond - as soon as 2022. But for ordinary citizens, zero gravity and long flights could wreak havoc on their bodies.
Getting to space is a naturally challenging experience, especially for the human body. That's why the firms hoping to sell trips are taking a page from NASA's playbook and undertaking a rigorous training program for would-be travelers to mitigate things like muscle atrophy and bone loss that studies show can happen on trips outside the atmosphere.
Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are setting out to take tourists to the very edge of space. Virgin's 90-minute tour will give customers "several minutes of weightlessness," and a flight onboard Blue Origin's will give you an 11-minute tour, neither of which are even close enough to the time for muscle atrophy or other effects to set in.
Still, both companies are requiring customers to take a training course prior to the expedition.
"There are a couple days of training in advance of the flight," a Blue Origin spokesperson told Insider. "Some of the training includes learning procedures for getting into and out of the capsule, a mission simulation, and learning techniques for how to move around in zero-g."
The National Aerospace Training and Research Center has "already trained nearly 400 future Virgin Galactic passengers for their trips," Glenn King, the director of spaceflight training, told AFP. The training takes two days and involves a morning of classroom instruction and using a centrifuge to simulate gravitational forces, the wire service reported.
Sirisha Bandla, VP of Government Affairs for Virgin Galactic, told Insider in an interview that customers will arrive a few days ahead of their flight for training.
"It's both talking about the safety system, how to buckle yourself in, and get out of your seat," she said. "And to mentally prepare for the journey what's going to happen so that when they are in the microgravity time, they take that moment to look out the windows and enjoy the space flight."
Virgin plans to send Kellie Gerardi, a researcher from the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS), on a dedicated research flight (with the date yet to be determined), the firm said Thursday. She'll conduct experiments and test healthcare tech - like zero-gravity syringes and bio-monitoring instruments - while in space.
"I think it's a continually evolving landscape and opportunity landscape, especially for researchers and civilians," Gerardi told Insider. "I just look at my three-year-old daughter, who's been super excited today, and she just thinks that mommies go to space, like that's just what they do. And it's like wow, that's going to be so awesome for her when she's in her thirties like me, just growing up knowing that."
Longer trips will be more complicated.
Elon Musks' SpaceX is set to take four civilians onboard its Dragon Crew spaceship later this year for a trip to space. The Inspiration4 mission will be the "first-ever crew of people who aren't professional astronauts to orbit the Earth for three days."
That much time without gravity could lead to dire effects on the body, as astronauts have learned and trained for during the past half-century of spaceflight. According to NASA, astronauts must exercise for two hours a day to prepare their bodies for the trek to space, time spent there, and the journey back to Earth.
"They spend approximately 10 hours underwater for every hour they spend walking in space," NASA says, "In order to maintain muscle strength while in space, astronauts practice core-building activities before, during, and after their missions. Here on Earth, these activities may include swimming, running, weight training, or floor exercises."
Artificial gravity may be able to help. Blue Origin has visionary plans to put up to 1 trillion people in space in colonies, as Jeff Bezos outlined in 2019. The settlements would exist in spinning cylinders meant to replicate gravity, orbit the Earth, and sustain human life.
His plan is backed up by a new study published in the journal Nature in April, which found that the effects of zero-gravity on muscles could be mitigated with artificial gravity. Scientists measured these effects by sending two groups of mice into orbit on the International Space Station for 35 days to study the effects of earth-gravity versus microgravity.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, their findings indicated that artificial gravity may "help stop the decay of muscle mass and the alteration of atrophy-related gene expressions that occur in space."
All that training and research means trips won't be cheap
Blue Origin tickets are currently going for as much as $2.8 million for a seat on its New Shepard spaceship, and the price could go even higher when a live auction takes place on June 12.
Virgin Galactic, meanwhile, completed its third test flight to the edge of space on May 22, as the company prepares to take tourists to space as early as 2022. "Some 600 customers have already paid $200,000-$250,000 for a seat," Insider reported.
SpaceX hasn't said how much its first passenger - Yusaku Maezawa - paid to go on the firm's first moon mission.
"He's paying a lot of money that would help with the ship and its booster," Musk said in 2018. "He's ultimately paying for the average citizen to travel to other planets."