After years – if not decades – of waiting, 2021 was finally the year for the launch of space tourism. In the span of 10 short days in July, the commercial spaceflight industry took two giant strides as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin achieved their first flights with paid customers on board.
While we still don’t have any commercial space stations and prices are extremely inaccessible to everyone except the 1% of the 1%, space tourism is officially here – and here to stay.
Here are some of the highlights of the successful launches and missions of the year, and of the people who have joined the ranks of “commercial astronauts” as a result of their flights.
July 11 – Virgin Galactic’s first flight
Always the type to do the show, Sir Richard Branson was the first commercial client to fly into space with his company, Virgin Galactic, in early July. The announcement came quickly, as Branson wanted to reach the edge of space before his competitor, Blue Origin – which he did just 9 days earlier. Branson was joined on board by three VG employees: Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses, Vice President of Government Affairs and Researcher Sirisha Bandla (who conducted in-flight experiments) and Chief Operations Engineer of VG Colin Bennett.
On the ground before, during and after Spaceport America’s flight to New Mexico, non-flying guests were treated to a variety of entertainment, including a performance by Khalid.
July 20 – Blue Origin’s first flight
On July 20, 52 years after the first moon landing, Blue Origin made its first successful consumer flight with founder Jeff Bezos on board. The company took off from its West Texas facility with four passengers on board: Bezos, his brother, aerospace legend Wally Funk, and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, whose father was one of the bidders of the Blue Origin auction for the final seat.
(The anonymous auction winner pulled out days before the launch, we later learned that it was tech / crypto founder Justin Sun, who is now considering buying back an entire Blue Origin flight in the future.)
September 15 – Inspiration4 Mission
One of the top space tourism stories of the year and the most enjoyable of the year focused on the Inspiration4 mission, curated and led by American billionaire Jared Isaacman. Isaacman purchased a flight for four on one of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsules and organized his crew which included medical assistant Hayley Arceneaux, geoscientist and science communications specialist Sian Proctor, and data engineer Chris Sembroski, whose last two won their places thanks to a fundraiser. campaign for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, where Arceneaux works.
The Inspiration4 crew was launched from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and spent three days in orbit before landing off the coast of Florida.
October 13 – Beam Me Up, Scotty
For its second mainstream flight, Blue Origin grabbed the headlines by inviting none other than Captain Kirk himself to join the flight as a guest. The inimitable William Shatner became the oldest person to visit space at age 90, and said it was one of the highlights of his life: “I was so fascinated by what was happening. passed on this flight. It moved me to tears, so much so that… I couldn’t control my emotions for 15 to 20 minutes, ”Shatner told TIME. in an interview after his flight.
December 8 – First ISS tourist (in a while)
For more than a decade, the only visitors to the International Space Station have been astronauts focused on research and other science projects – and a Russian actress / director who traveled earlier in 2021 to film scenes from ‘an upcoming movie. In some ways, it seemed like the days of welcoming tourists to the ISS were over; Canadian businessman Guy Laliberté was the last to visit in 2009.
That changed in December, when Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa arrived with a videographer to spend 12 days aboard the station. There, he answered common questions about life in microgravity (including classic toilet problems) and also did some fun experiments to encourage interest in space.
Maezawa is expected to fly around the moon with SpaceX at some point in the future; the trip was proposed for 2023 but not confirmed.
December 11 – Hello Earth
To close the year, Blue Origin made a third successful flight in early December. In addition to several paying customers, passengers included Hello america host Michael Strahan and Laura Shepard Churchley, daughter of astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American to reach space and who Blue Origin’s New Shepherd the rocket bears the name.
Besides being a TV host, Strahan has a background in professional football and tweeted “TOUCHDOWN has a new meaning now !!!” after his successful return to earth.
Here are more successful flights in 2022, long-standing bookings filled for patient Virgin Galactic customers, and falling prices.