SPACEX has announced it will send four tourists hurtling into orbit as early as next year.
The California rocket-making firm, run by eccentric billionaire Elon Musk, said passengers will liftoff from a launchpad in Florida before soaring around Earth at high altitude.
Ticket prices are not being divulged but expected to be in the millions.
"This historic mission will forge a path to making spaceflight possible for all people who dream of it," SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said.
The company is working with Space Adventures for the flight, officials announced Tuesday.
Space Adventures already has helped put tourists into orbit with trips to the International Space Station, working with the Russian space program.
For this trip, paying customers will skip the space station and instead orbit two to three times higher, or roughly 500 miles to 750 miles above Earth.
It's a lofty goal that would approach the record 850-mile-high orbit achieved by Gemini 11's Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon in 1966.
SpaceX is already dabbling in space tourism, signing on a Japanese billionaire to fly to the moon in three or so years.
Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic also plan tourist trips to space, but these will be brief up-and-downs, not orbital.
SpaceX will use the same kind of Dragon capsule that will launch Nasa astronauts to the space station, possibly in another few months.
The capsule has flown only once in space so far, making its debut last year in a successful test flight without a crew.
Space Adventures spokeswoman Stacey Tearne said the tourist flight could occur in the last quarter of 2021. The company is in discussions with several potential clients.
No professional pilot or astronaut will be required, Tearne said, because the Dragon is fully autonomous.
But passengers will be able to control the spacecraft if required, she said in an email.
The cost will be in line with previous tourist flights, she said.
Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberte, founder of Cirque du Soleil, paid £27million for a one-and-half-week space station flight in 2009.
He said from orbit that it was worth every penny and more.
What is SpaceX?
Here's what you need to know…
- SpaceX is a cash-flushed rocket company that wants to take man to Mars.
- It was set up by eccentric billionaire Elon Musk in 2002 and is based in Hawthorne, California.
- SpaceX's first aim was to build rockets that could be landed back on Earth and re-used.
- Musk hoped the technology would make flying and operating space flights far cheaper.
- SpaceX now uses its reusable rockets to fly cargo to the International Space Station for Nasa.
- The company will take astronauts up to the ISS for the first time in 2020.
- Other future missions involve carrying tourists and astronauts to the Moon.
- Musk has repeatedly said he believes humanity must colonise Mars to save itself from extinction.
- He plans to get a SpaceX rocket to the Red Planet sometime in the 2030s.
Like all previous space tourists, he launched on a Russian rocket from Kazakhstan.
This private Dragon flight from Cape Canaveral will be shorter, lasting up to five days, according to Tearne.
Based in Vienna, Virginia, Space Adventures helped arrange the flight of the world's first space tourist, Dennis Tito, founder and chairman of Wilshire Associates in California.
He flew to the space station on a Russian capsule in 2001, igniting the wrath of top Nasa officials who opposed visiting tourists.
The company has arranged eight space missions, with one tourist going twice.
Space Adventures' goal is to create unique and previously impossible opportunities for private citizens to experience space, Eric Anderson, company chairman, said in a statement.
Nasa has softened its stance on space tourists, and is opening the station doors to paying customers once commercial crew flights by SpaceX and Boeing have been established.
In other news, a supersonic Nasa X-plane that's as quiet as the "thump of a car door" is nearly ready.
Nasa has unveiled the design of a moon lander that could be taking astronauts back to the lunar surface by 2024.
And Nasa recently revealed a surreal photo of Earth taken from 4billion miles away.
What do you think of Musk's space tourism antics? Let us know in the comments!
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