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Space Tourism is on the Horizon!
     Since the beginning of the "space-race" with the former Soviet Union, back in the 1960's, people have been dreaming about suiting up in a space-suit, boarding a rocket ship and traveling to the planets.  Most of us seem to have forgotten that the first two U.S. space missions of the Project Mercury days were "sub-orbital" missions and their astronauts never achieved earth orbit.  But eventually we made it to orbital missions, then lunar missions, and now we have a space station that allows a few select humans the opportunity to live in space.  These realizations have not yet been made available to the common man.  But the time is rapidly approaching when space tourism will open its doors to the few who can afford it.  As with everything else, prices will come down so that someday it will be no different than going on a short vacation to Hawaii or the Caribbean. 
     The first commercial flights are on the horizon, with several private companies already planning missions for paying customers.  The private sector is already involved with cargo launched into space.  In 2012 the Dragon spacecraft (developed by SpaceX) delivered cargo to and successfully docked with the International Space Station.  While SpaceX has been the vanguard of the commercial space market, it is currently limiting itself to serving NASA and the government space program.  There are other companies, some of which will begin their business following in the footsteps of SpaceX, but have their vision focused on commercial travel.  Here are some that are working toward that goal.

Blue Origin

     Financed by Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezo, founded the space startup company in 2000.  The company was kept secret until 2006 when large land purchases were made in west Texas where the launch and test facility is located. 
     Unlike many other space vehicles, which are designed to return to earth as gliders or slung beneath a number of parachute canopies, the Blue Origin space crafts launch and land vertically, using the rocket engines to slow its descend to a soft landing at the spaceport.  The launch vehicle is still undergoing testing, but the Blue Origin team is confident that they are on the right track to provide a solid, well designed vehicle to take passengers to space. 

Virgin Galactic

     Sir Richard Branson is known as the entrepreneur with the Midas touch.  The founder of Virgin Record, which he sold to finance his airline - Virgin Air - has now turned his eyes to space travel.  His latest endeavor, Virgin Galactic, will take passengers on a sub-orbital flight during which they can experience the zero-g environment for several minutes. 
     Unlike standard space vehicle launches, the Virgin Galactic space craft is carried to 50,000 feet by a mother ship.  There it is released and its rocket engine takes it into the sub-orbital flight.  Although a date for the first flight has not yet been established, a number of people from all over the world have already made a down payment for the $250,000 ticket.

Space X

A third company Space X is currently shuttleing NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. But they are reportedly already taking orders to launch up to four tourists into orbit on their Crew Dragon spacecraft. Their flights will not go to the space station, but will instead place the crew into orbit around the Earth on a mission currently scheduled to last up to five days. Exact pricing has not yet been announced, but the cost per seat is expected to be in the same range of other spaceflight providers. They anticipate these trips will begin in late 2021.