Space travel. Picture: 123RF/Vadim Sadovski
Space travel. Picture: 123RF/Vadim Sadovski

We have been told that space is the final frontier. On the screen we have seen over the past 70 years a young Leslie Nielsen on the Forbidden Planet, Matt Damon on Mars and Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich on a holiday cruise (space) ship complete with its own opera house.

And now, after being teased over all these decades by pop culture with what seemed like outlandish prospects, the next big holiday trend on the horizon in real life is the most literal interpretation of "out of this world".

We’re not talking about the literal straight-up intergalactic roadtrip where you get a spot on a comfortable-enough rocket heading into the stratosphere and back again. The R1m-a-pop-rocket passenger-testing byproduct of the current War of the (colony) Worlds is interesting, but we need more than fleeting floating moments to sate our sci-fi appetites.

There is still cause to be excited as the various billionaires make bold promises to colonise the only spots in the nearby galaxy left standing. SpaceX and Boeing, when not sniping at each other on Twitter, are racing to reach Mars as soon as 2022. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos hopes his Despicable Me levels of moon stealing will come together by 2023 with his Blue Moon colony project. But building the future hope for (wealthy) humanity sounds a lot like work, and a bit too much like #staycation rather than an option for casual holiday consideration.

Something different is promised by Orion Span, a company that in April announced its intention to launch (in every sense of the word) the world’s very first "luxury space hotel" as early as 2021. According to its website the 42m² hotel, called Aurora Station, is already taking reservations for possible 2022 occupancy. Four "private astronauts" will be able to live in the hotel for 12 days.

The company promises that the deposit of R1.138m will be safe in its third-party escrow service while you are on the waiting list, and says it will request payment of the rest of the R130m only six months closer to the time of launch.

This chunk of change will buy a proper outer-orbit experience during which you will help conduct research and experiments alongside the two in-station crew members while chomping all the dehydrated food you can eat.

If this sounds like the space holiday equivalent of a rough camping trip where you land up paying to participate in the joys of labour, you are not alone. There have been more than enough movies in the Alien franchise to know by now that in space no-one can hear you scream — in frustration.

Where is the luxury jealousy-inducing social media moment?

That would come from Axiom Space’s more luxurious luxury hotel. Not be outdone by the Orion Span proclamation, Axiom announced a mere two months afterwards that not only will it launch its orbital tourism adventure a full year earlier but that the occupants will be able to sip on high-end cocktails made from specially designed microgravity glasses.

Technically, claiming this early launch date is cheating. The Smithsonian Air & Space magazine reports that Axiom plans to send private "spaceflight participants" up to the already existing International Space Station (ISS). A curious partnership, considering that the ISS is set to be decommissioned in 2028. It will later attach its own commercial module to the station before it finally sends up its own space hotel with custom habitation pods designed by lauded French designer Philippe Starck.

There is no official mention of cocktail glasses or any indication of whether the specially designed espresso cups will make an appearance at the earlier ISS stage.

The ISS trip, which will still set you back R780m for 10 days, is not anything new, considering that for a time in the early 2000s the Russians were taking up their own paying customers. But the fun post-Soviet ride-alongs stopped because the spare seat on the rocket was taken by actual astronauts doing actual work.

The Russians apparently announced their plans last August to also make a hotel inside the space station, according to Popular Mechanics magazine. The trip by the Russian space corporation, Roscosmos, to ISS would set you back R565m for one or two weeks’ stay, with a bonus R282m for a space walk with cosmonaut in tow. The Russian NEM-1 module will be attached to ISS launches in 2021, the same year as the arrival of its Houston-based neighbours.

However, for Axiom, which was started by veterans of US space agency Nasa, it’s not all flash, cocktails and "flavourful (and increasingly fresh) meals". It hopes to provide inspiration to a host of professional astronauts, researchers, manufacturers, advertisers and space-exploration entities as well as the wealthy.

Axiom president and CEO Michael Suffredini, a 27-year Nasa vet, explained to the Robb Report website: "Seeing the world as a delicate, singular entity against the vast backdrop of the universe indelibly changes people. Most individuals return from space with a profound sense of urgency to do more to protect our fragile planet and all of its inhabitants."

Suffredini goes on to say Axiom’s private astronauts will be "some of the most influential people in the world", and hopes that "together with their philanthropic organisations, we will see a positive change coming for all of us and our home planet".

And if not? Well, at least the selfies will be great.

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