A Toronto travel agency has become the latest to offer space travel as an option to ordinary tourists.
The Adventure Travel Company launched its new space package a few weeks ago and has had "tons of inquiries" so far, said general manager Kristina Boyce.
"For a lot of our clients…they've been to Antarctica, they've done Peru, they've trekked Mt. Everest. Now this is sort of the next thing to do. It's the sort of ultimate adventure," she said.
The agency is now offering three-day packages from the Dutch company Space Expedition Corporation for around $100,000. The packages include training and a one-hour flight into low-Earth orbit 103 kilometres above the surface at 3,500 kilometres an hour — with four to six minutes of weightlessness.
Mars, the Moon and other off-Earth spots for space tourists
Reinhard Spronk, chief commercial officer for Space Expedition Corporation, described one of the highlights.
"The spacecraft will turn upside down and you will see the beauty of Earth," he said.
The Adventure Travel Company says other highlights include travelling faster than a speeding bullet, breaking the sound barrier, and getting some major "bragging rights."
"You'd be part of such an exclusive group," Boyce said. "You'd be one of 500 people, men and women, who have seen the Earth's curvature, which has got to be such a profound experience."
Boyce said her company started offering the new space package after it was brought up by one of her colleagues, who has a contact at Space Expedition Corporation.
"Our CEO asked the same question that most people ask, which is, 'Is this real?'" she recalled.
But as soon as he visited one of the company's spaceports and learned more, he says he was sold.
Space tourism for the rest of us
His company's first flights are scheduled to launch in 2014 from spaceports in California's Mojave Desert and Curaçao in the Caribbean.
Sergio Pio, an avid traveller who went to Mongolia last year and has already visited 66 other countries, says he's ready to sign up.
Pio, who works in Toronto as a caterer, had been thinking earlier about booking a ticket with another space tourism company, Virgin Galactic. At least 20 Canadians have already booked with Virgin Galactic, which charges $200,000 for a flight with five other passengers or $1 million for a private flight. It also plans to launch its first space flight in 2014.
Then a friend told Pio that the Adventure Travel Company was selling similar flights for half the price. Pio thinks that's a deal, considering that just a few years ago, billionaires were paying millions for flights into space.
Pio says he will book his ticket as soon as his lawyer approves the contract and his doctor says he's fit to fly.
"I like to be the pioneer," he said. "I like to be one of the first to be there. So I'm ready."
Sara Poirier, an astronomer at the Ontario Science Centre, said it's very exciting that ordinary people and "not just this elite few" will soon have a chance to go into space for a price that's not that much higher than the cost of a guided expedition to the top of Mount Everest.
"For many, that has long been a dream that's been beyond human imagination," she said. "The fact that it's tangible now, and safe and relatively affordable means it's going to be something that a lot of people will be taking advantage of… we're going to look back at this time as a very important moment in history."