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Will space tourism take off in 2012?

Posted by [email protected] on January 4, 2012 at 9:40 AM

Perhaps more than any, space tourism is an industry where you need to have your head in the clouds and your feet planted firmly on the ground.

Quite literally lofty ambitions need a thoroughly realistic approach, but that doesn't mean that pessimism should replace the optimism felt by so many people when SpaceShipOne made its twin flights eight years ago and Richard Branson launched Virgin Atlantic. We all thought SpaceShipTwo would be making suborbital hops by 2008, but in today's risk-averse society it's pointless to expect anything but the most cautious approach before you put millionaire tourists into a rocket-powered spaceplane.

So while we've got our fingers crossed that SpaceShipTwo will make its maiden sub-orbital flight this year, let's not forget that the most exciting space tourism news came from outside the USA.

Space Expedition Curacao officially opened for paying customers, and by the end of the year had signed up more than 50 would-be astronauts to ride alongside the pilot on the XCOR Lynx II rocketplane. I don't know about you, but Curacao sounds like a more attractive launch location than the Mojave Desert!

Britain's Excalibur Almaz took delivery of some vintage Russian space hardware, which it hopes to refurbish into an suite of orbital capsules and space hotels. It's one of the more unusual private space ventures, but that just makes space tourism all the more interesting.

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic broke ground on its spaceport in Mojave, and regulators got more friendly towards commercial manned spaceflight. SpaceX, the champions of private spaceflight, not only won the chance to fly to the ISS, they revealed plans for even bigger rockets and a fully resuable launch system.

Being realistic, space tourism won't be a real industry until it flies its first real, paying passengers, but it's still far from grounded.

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