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Now how much would you pay for a trip to the exosphere?

In the half-century since humans first touched the stars, just seven people have paid their way into space, each forking over tens of millions to orbit around the Earth for about two weeks.

But by late next year, more paying customers will make a brief venture into space, and at a much cheaper cost, if plans by two companies flourish. Costing from $100,000 to $200,000, the flights will give customers a few minutes of weightlessness and a grand view of the Earth 62 miles above the ground.

This goal is among the latest efforts in the world of space tourism. Conceived decades ago, the idea to provide spaceflight to the paying customer is starting to become a reality. The tangibility was made clear earlier this month when Virgin’s VSS Enterprise completed its first manned glide flight from 42,000 feet to a Mojave, Calif., spaceport.

“Now, the sky is no longer the limit,” said Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, one of two companies that plan to begin flying commercial suborbital missions for late next year. “We will begin the process of pushing beyond to the final frontier of space itself.”


In addition to getting into orbit, the other challenge is the destination. For now, NASA’s International Space Station could be an option, but while it is quite large, it’s a national laboratory and not generally a space hotel.

Enter Bigelow Aerospace, a company founded by hotelier Robert Bigelow. The Las Vegas company has already flown two prototypes for an inflatable module and has broken ground on an 180,000-square-foot factory to build space habitats.

You can already imagine the ad campaigns about “what happens at the inflatable space module”, can’t you? Me personally, I think I’ll wait till dilithium crystals become commercially available, then I’ll seek out a suitable wormhole and head off for a visit to the Gamma Quadrant. How about you?

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