The United States reemerged as a space power with human spaceflight capabilities in May, when SpaceX launched a pair of NASA astronauts atop a Falcon 9 rocket aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft on a voyage to the International Space Station. The demonstration (Demo-2) mission was completed on August 2; Dragon returned the astronauts safely from space -marking the beginning of a new era in American spaceflight. Demo-2’s success showcased Crew Dragon is an engineering marvel capable of reliably transporting humans to orbit and withstanding the high-stresses of atmospheric reentry upon return.
After the historic astronauts’ return, the President of SpaceX and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell talked about how SpaceX’s first crewed flight paves the way for future missions to space. “This mission was incredibly smooth. Not to say that there weren’t things that we want to work on and do better next time, but the capsule worked beautifully,” she said. “We certainly feel comfortable that we’re on the right path to carry commercial passengers.”
SpaceX will not only carry astronauts to the space station, the company aims to offer space tours to private citizens aboard the Dragon spacecraft. “This is really just the beginning,” she said, “We are starting the journey of bringing people regularly to and from low-Earth orbit and on to the moon, and then ultimately on to Mars.”
“We are starting the journey of bringing people regularly to and from low-Earth orbit and on to the moon, and then ultimately on to Mars.”
Space Adventures, a space tourism agency, announced earlier this year it signed a deal with SpaceX to launch 4 private citizens to orbit aboard Crew Dragon. The mission is scheduled to take place sometime in late 2021, early 2022. “This historic mission will forge a path to making spaceflight possible for all people who dream of it, and we are pleased to work with the Space Adventures team on the mission,” Shotwell told reporters in February.
During the Space Adventures mission, Dragon will not head to the orbiting laboratory; it will remain in orbit cruising around Earth for around 5 days at an altitude of about 500 miles to 850 miles above Earth, that is two to three times the 250-mile height of the space station – the highest altitude that any private citizen in history has ever been to!
“This will provide up to four individuals with the opportunity to break the world altitude record for private citizen spaceflight and see planet Earth the way no one has since the Gemini program,” Space Adventures representatives wrote in a press release. In reference to the record 850-mile-high orbit achieved by Gemini XI’s astronauts Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon in 1966. They experienced an incredible view of Earth at that altitude. The photograph below was taken aboard the Gemini XI spacecraft in September 14, 1966, it features the Western half of Australia.
“Honoring our combined histories, this Dragon mission will be a special experience and a once in a lifetime opportunity, capable of reaching twice the altitude of any prior civilian astronaut mission or space station visitor,” said Eric Anderson, Chairman of Space Adventures. The space tourism agency stated that the total price of the mission will not be disclosed. However, previous Space Adventures space tours run around $30 million per seat; the price for a space tour aboard Crew Dragon is expected to be around a similar range.