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View of the Earth from Space

The First Space Tourist Is a Billionaire Who Will Orbit the Moon

SpaceX has announced that Yusaku Maezawa, a young Japanese entrepreneur and billionaire art collector, will be the first paying passenger to take a trip around the moon. Maezawa purchased a private journey in Elon Musk’s newest BFR spaceship, which is tentatively scheduled for 2023.

If a trip around the moon seems extravagant, it’s worth noting that Maezawa brought it to a whole new level by purchasing the space ship’s full capacity for the journey, on which he plans to bring six to eight “artists” free of charge. SpaceX did not disclose the amount that Maezawa paid, but estimates on the cost of the launch alone are in the millions.

The spaceship will, in theory, rocket to and orbit around the moon, before returning to Earth. The entire round-trip journey will take about a week, during most of which the passengers in the compartment will be weightless. And if that sounds pretty glamorous, the physical strain that space travel puts on the body might surprise you.

The Less-Glamorous Side of Space Tourism

For adrenaline junkies with millions of dollars, this might well be big news. But if you’re an ordinary traveler, it’s not going to change travel any time soon. A lot of hype has been devoted to the idea of “space tourism” over the past few years, but it’s unlikely to be much more than a check mark on a bucket list for rich celebrities or business moguls who think they can take the physical pressures astronauts train for.

The problem of weightlessness is often ignored. Close to half of all the people who have visited space have suffered “space adaptation syndrome” (SAS) or, more simply put, space sickness. Symptoms of SAS reportedly include nausea and vomiting, vertigo, headaches, lethargy, and overall discomfort. It typically lasts 72 hours, which is a long time to endure severe discomfort.

Affordable Space Tourism?

If you want to go into space for a more reasonable price in the thousands—and on a much shorter trip—Virgin Galactic has been promoting its prospective low-orbit program for several years. At this point, however, there’s no firm timetable.

If you want to experience weightlessness, though, you can for a lot less than a space voyage, and without even getting into a rocket. Two outfits fly weightless flights on jets for ordinary travelers: AirZeroG is based in France, and Zero G is based in Virginia with operations in several U.S. cities.

In both cases, the operator flies a specially equipped jet in a series of “parabolic flights,” first climbing, then nosing over into a descending arc during which passengers will feel truly weightless. Each arc provides about 20-30 seconds of weightlessness, and a typical session performs a dozen or so such arcs. Prices for either program start at about $5,000 per trip—a far cry from the millions Maezawa probably paid, but obviously still not cheap.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

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