For the 0.1 percent, the sky really is no longer the limit. NASA announced last week that it will soon open the International Space Station to tourists, but only a few exceptionally deep-pocketed travelers will be able to afford the orbital lodging. A night at the ISS will cost at least $35,000—two paying visitors will be able to stay there for up to a month at a time—and amateur astronauts will also have to shell out for their ride to and from the station, which floats 220 miles above Earth. Each rocket flight will cost more than $50 million. NASA is a somewhat late entrant to the space tourism game. Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk announced plans last year to fly sightseers around the moon starting in 2023—his SpaceX firm has yet to build a suitable spacecraft—while Amazon boss Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin venture is already testing a space tourism rocket. The New Shepard has a capsule fitted with giant windows, so its six riders can soak up the view during their 10 minutes at the edge of space.
These commercial ventures will help defray the high cost of space exploration—the ISS, for example, costs NASA more than $8 million a day. But selling off one of mankind’s greatest adventures to the highest bidders will rob it of its majesty. For half a century, astronauts have been chosen for “their courage, verve, intelligence, and vigor,” Rebecca Boyle writes in TheAtlantic.com. They are the best of us, daring star sailors that the whole of humanity can look up to. But space tourism could turn the final frontier into just another playground of the megarich, much like Mount Everest, where moneyed amateurs today pay up to $70,000 to stand in a line so they can snap selfies on the 29,029-foot summit. (See Talking Points.) Having the “right stuff” might soon mean not what’s in astronauts’ heads and hearts, but what’s in their bank accounts.