Space Is Within Reach
Some readers will probably know that one of my long term goals as stated on my “About Me” page is to go into outer space 😀 I haven’t gone up there yet because 3 factors in the past have always kept me grounded 😉 Money: It costs about $200,000 to get into space. Safety: Based on historical data 1 out of 20 astronauts (5%) have died on missions. And practicality: There hasn’t been any commercially viable way for the general public to space travel yet.
However, all that is starting to change. Last month my net worth passed the $200,000 milestone. Money is not an issue anymore for me 🙂 Safety standards and technology have also improved dramatically for space flight. There hasn’t been a space related death in a long time. And finally thanks to daredevils like Felix Baumgartner, film directors like J.J. Abrams, astronauts like Chris Hadfield, celebrity entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, and actors like George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, there has never been more social interest and curiosity about the final frontier!
Half a century ago we saw the first human spaceflight ever. Since then many astronauts have gone into space, orbited the earth, built the International Space Station (I.S.S.), and have even gone to the moon 😉 We are living in a very fortunate time right now because space travel today is more accessible than ever before for the average person. We don’t have to be a NASA trained astronaut anymore to enjoy this once in a lifetime experience 🙂 This post will explain space tourism and how I plan to fly in a passenger space plane.
How High Is The Sky?
First, some basics. How high do you have to fly in order to reach space? The boundary between the Earths’ atmosphere and outer space is called the Kármán line, and this is 100 km (62 miles) above the earth’s surface. This standard is accepted by the FAI, an international record-keeping body for aeronautics and astronautics. Around the 100 kilometer altitude the air becomes too thin to support aeronautical flight.
To the right is a diagram (not to scale) showing the different layers of the atmosphere. Below are some examples for benchmark purposes, everything is measured from sea level.
- 6 km – Habitation limit. Most people cannot live for extended periods of time above this altitude.
- 8 km (27k ft) – Most clouds in the world are lower than this altitude
- 9 km – Mount Everest. Air pressure here is only 33% as dense as air at sea level.
- 11 km – Most passenger airplanes cruise at this altitude. Additional supply of oxygen is mandatory and aircraft cabins have to be pressurized. That’s why in movies everything gets sucked out if there’s a breach in a plane’s hull.
- 20 km (66k ft) – There is so little pressure up here your blood would start boiling if exposed to the outside, but you’d probably die from hypoxia first (lack of oxygen.) Spy planes like the U-2 fly at this altitude.
- 25 km – Ozone layer. No UV protection from the sun above this altitude 😯
- 30 km (98k ft) – 99% of the atmosphere is below this point. Helium or hydrogen weather balloons float around this altitude.
- 37 km (121k ft) – Amateur scientists can build rockets that can reach 121,000 feet in less than 2 minutes.
- 39 km – Red Bull Stratos. Felix Baumgartner jumped from a balloon at this height last year. He broke the highest sky-dive on record and also broke the sound barrier.
- 60 km – Meteors showers happen here. Most meteors are small and burn up when they reach the earth’s atmosphere.
- 100 km – Kármán line. Anything above this height is considered to be in space.
- 110 km – Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo’s projected highest altitude.
- 150 km – Northern lights (Aurora Borealis.) They can span between 100 km to 300 km above the world’s surface.
- 300 km – Space shuttles and satellites, including the I.S.S., orbit the earth between 300 km to 500 km away.
Why Go Into Space?
What’s the big deal about space anyway? Is it worth spending $200K on? Yes, it is to me 😀 Not everyone is interested in space flight, but this is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m a big fan of astronomy, the universe, and science in general, and I think going to space will open up my mind and change who I am as person forever. Besides the obvious reasons such as for fun and excitement, exclusivity, bragging rights, a different perspective, and YOLO, there are 2 special reasons why I’m determined to go into space.
1. The Overview Effect – is a perspective-altering experience when we see the Earth from space. It’s hard to explain but it basically produces a radical shift in self-awareness, an emotional life changing event that effects how we perceive the planet and mankind’s place among the cosmos. Common symptoms of the Overview Effect include a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment.
“When I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the Moon, I cried.” ~Alan Shepard talking about his time on the lunar surface during the Apollo 14 mission in February 1971.
The constantly changing biosphere of earth has a dramatic visual impact on people. Astronauts who have worked for months at a time on the I.S.S. admit to have spent most of their free time “earth gazing.” They simply stare at the planet in complete awe and reflect pensively reflect on their lives. And after they return to earth they talk about it for the rest of their lives and how it was a life changing experience for them.
If you know James May from my favorite car show Top Gear you might have seen the Youtube video where he flies 21 km (70,000 ft) above the ground in a Lockheed U-2 spy plane. That’s twice as high as a normal passenger airplane. Even though he isn’t even close to the 100 km space barrier, he is already above 95% of the earth’s atmosphere by mass, which means the sky above him is dark, the curvature of the planet is visible, and he somewhat experiences the Overview Effect.
“It’s impossible to articulate what it feels like… If everybody could do it once, it would completely change the face of global politics, religion, education, everything.” ~James May
Once a person experiences the Overview Effect, including Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, his life back on earth and his view on society, and our place in the universe is changed forever 🙂 That’s why when the astronauts from Apollo missions came back people said there was a noticeable change in the astronaut’s behaviors. They couldn’t stop talking about the unity and cohesion of our planet, and how important it is for everyone to work together to make a better world.
“From out there on the Moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’” ~Edgar Mitchel
2. Existential Experience – According to one scientific theory the atoms that make up our bodies were once created from stars that existed billions of years ago. And eventually after we’re long gone our atoms would go back to create new stars and solar systems 🙂
“We are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.”~Neil deGrasse Tyson
Going into space will be as close as I can get to the stars out there in the universe. I want to clearly see how bright the stars are without the earth’s atmosphere being in the way. I want to see the possible beginnings of new life being created, wonder where alien life might be hiding, and get as close as possible to where I had come from, and where I’ll end up going to in the future. I want to connect with my subatomic roots, and ponder the vastness of the universe and how everything began while seeing it with my own eyes.
“On the return trip home, gazing through 240,000 miles of space toward the stars and the planet from which I had come, I suddenly experienced the universe as intelligent, loving, harmonious.” ~Edgar Mitchell
“…When I look up at the night sky, and I know that yes we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up- many people feel small, cause they’re small and the universe is big. But I feel big because my atoms came from those stars.” ~Neil deGrasse Tyson answering the question What is the most astounding fact about the Universe.
How to Fly into Space?
There are many companies currently working to make commercial space flight a reality in the near future. Elon Musk, the famous founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors has a project called SpaceX. Last year they became the first privately held company to send an unmanned cargo payload to the I.S.S. Elon plans to start sending people up in as early as 2015. SpaceX is reported to work with a company called Mars One which plans to send 24 to 40 people on a one way trip to colonize Mars in 2023. This Mars One mission sounds almost like a sci-fi movie eh 🙂
Speaking of movies. I have one movie ticket to giveaway to a lucky reader. Unfortunately this ticket can only be used in Canada so you must have a Canadian address to enter. I’ll do a global giveaway next time 🙂 This ticket is good for one free general admission movie at any Cineplex theatre. All you have to do to win is be the first person in the comments below to tell me what your favorite space movie is 😀
We don’t have to wait until 2023 to enjoy space flight though. For most people like myself who are not professional astronauts the best option we have is space tourism. For about $200K to $250K we could get above the Karman line and into space for a short time period. This is called a suborbital space flight, because we’re not staying up there long enough to orbit around the earth entirely. I know $200K/$250K sounds like a lot of money but remember that the average household net worth around where I live is $663K. So technically speaking, on average, each Vancouver household can literally afford to send 2 or 3 family members into space if they really want to 😉
One company developing suborbital flights is Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. They have a space plane called the SpaceShipTwo (SST) that can send up to 6 passengers 110 km (68 miles) above the earth, which qualifies as being in outer space. The SST is powered by a rocket motor that will accelerate it to 4,200 km/hr (2,600 miles/hr), or roughly 3.5 times the speed of sound. When the SST reaches maximum altitude its engines will be shut off, and passengers can exit their seats and float around for about 6 minutes in zero-G.
“What’s really getting your senses screaming now though, is that the gravity which has dominated every movement you’ve made since the day you were born is not there any more. There is no up and no down and you’re out of your seat experiencing the freedom that even your dreams underestimated. After a graceful mid-space somersault you find yourself at a large window and what you see is a view that you’ve seen in countless images but the reality is so much more beautiful and provokes emotions that are strong but hard to define…The incredibly narrow ribbon of atmosphere looks worryingly fragile. What you are looking at is the source of everything it means to be human, and it is home.” ~Virgin Galactic website
Sounds incredible! doesn’t it 😀 I contacted one of their astronaut sales support representative to find out more information about their program. She said you have to book your flight in advance and each seat costs $250,000. But if you can find 5 other friends, then you only pay $1,250,000 for all 6 seats, essentially a buy 5 get one free deal. It appears most of the readers of this blog can afford the price tag so if anybody wants to split the cost of 6 seats let me know 😉 The earlier we book the better, as the flight order is based on the date of payment. The full amount is payable at the time of booking in order to confirm the flight.
Over 600 people from around the world have already booked their suborbital flight with Virgin Galactic. The representative told me the planes are undergoing testing now and are expected to start flying real passengers who’ve signed up by the summer of next year 🙂 So that’s pretty soon. The schedule is to fly people a couple times a week at first, but they will accelerate the frequency over time. Since its based on a first pay first fly rule, she estimates people who sign up now should be able to take their ride in the first 3 years of commercial flights. This looks to be the best option right now for the average person like myself.
But if you’re a deca-millionaire there are space programs in place today brokered by Space Adventures to send you to the I.S.S. aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The cost is usually $20 to $40 million round trip, and you stay up there for up to 2 weeks. Microsoft Office head executive Charles Simonyi, and Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberté, have both toured space in this fashion.
The reason a trip to the I.S.S. is so expensive is because getting there requires a lot of thrust to reach orbital space flight. If you’ve seen the movie Gravity, you may remember that the I.S.S. orbits the earth about once every 92 minutes. This means it’s revolving (or falling) at 27,700 km/hr (17,200 mph) So to get on it, a spacecraft has to be also flying at that speed in order to sync up with it.
And if you are a centi-millionaire, you could spend $100 million to be passenger on Space Adventure Ltd.’s project DSE-Alpha, which is a circum-lunar mission to the moon, which is 384,400 kilometers away! (239K miles.) The farther away from earth you go the greater the cost is.
We are now seeing the advent of private space exploration and space tourism that is accessible by both the middle class and the ultra wealthy. There is an affordable option for everyone 🙂 expect for poor people 🙁 Right now the Virgin Galactic space flight sounds very appealing to me so I’m going to look through their terms and conditions and will possibly sign up in the next couple of years depending on how my stocks and other investments perform. Even if I book a flight with them in 2015, I likely won’t get to fly into space until 2019 though. Of course if Elon could get people to orbital space flight for something affordable like $500,000 for example, then I would much rather go for that instead. It will mean I’ll have to save up more money, but I think I can get to $500,000 net worth by the time I’m 30. If not, I can just borrow against my unsecured line of credit or something.
I will certainly not hit my financial freedom target by 35 years old if I go into space, but maybe it’s worth it eh 🙂 I could also wait until I’m much older to take a space trip so it won’t hurt my finances as much. My projected net worth at age 40 is about $1.5 million, assuming my current trend of spending and investment growth. If I get married and my wife happens to be of similar financial standings then we’ll have a $3 million household net worth. If by that time we decide to take a trip to space together, even if it costs us $500,000 we’ll have $2.5 million remaining, which will still provide us with a nice $100,000 (4% return) of passive income every year to live on presumably forever 😀 Also, over time as more companies offer space flights, the costs will drop so maybe I should be patient.
I believe 2013 is just the beginning of commercial space travel. Maybe in the future we’ll have floating space hotels that orbit our planet like satellites. Can you imagine taking your spouse out to space for your honeymoon or anniversary? Making out in zero gravity hundreds of miles over our blue planet will definitely score you some major romance points guaranteed 😉 Lol.
Life is all about finding meaning and living it to the fullest and I think flying into space could help us achieve that. We can’t be afraid to think big, dream big, and make unrealistic goals for ourselves. Flying was once thought to be unrealistic, until the Wright brothers invented the plane. Elon, Richard, and other smart people today are making unrealistic goals into realities for everyone. I will be watching the progress of the commercial space flight industry closely and when the right time comes I will have my life changing experience 😀
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~H. Jackson Brown Jr.