Richard Branson went to space on Sunday. When’s it your turn?

Space tourism can cost anywhere from $20 million to $50 million, but soon it could cost closer to $20,000 to be able to yell "I'm an astronaut!" with confidence.

Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson in a spacewear system

Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson demonstrates a spacewear system, designed for Virgin Galactic astronauts.

Photo: Don Emmert/AFP via Getty

The time has come. Richard Branson is the first billionaire founder of a space company to be shipped off to suborbital space on Sunday on a ship he helped build. The trip on the VSS Unity will last around 90 minutes, and he'll be bringing three colleagues with him. Branson's main duty on the trip: to figure out how to make the trip even more fun for the people who go after him.

And people will, indeed, go after him. Virgin Galactic has already sold around 600 tickets for similar flights, and plans to send at least 400 people per year to space starting in 2022.

But though Branson might be the first "billionaire founder of a space company" to go to space, he's certainly not the first billionaire to do some orbital touring. Here's a brief timeline of the people who traveled to space before him, and when you, too, might be able to join the 60-mile-high (and beyond!) club.

2001: A literal space odyssey

If you were a billionaire in the early aughts and wanted to go to space, you called Virginia-based Space Adventures. The company partnered with Russia's Federal Space Agency to send people on the Soyuz spacecraft for trips to the International Space Station.

In April 2001, Dennis Tito made history as the first non-astronaut to go into orbit, paying a reported $20 million for the eight-day trip. The former Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer was 60 when left the earth, and his trip wasn't without some controversy: Space agencies from Europe, Canada and Japan said that Tito shouldn't go, as he didn't have sufficient training. And though NASA said it didn't have a problem with commercial space flight, it also didn't think Tito had the right training (Tito himself said he thinks that age played a factor in their objections to his trip).

But up he went, and paved the way for those who came after him.

He was followed by:

  • Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth in 2002 (10 days, $20 million);
  • Sensors Unlimited co-founder Gregory Olsen in 2005 (10 days, $20 million);
  • Co-founder and CEO of Telecom Technologies Anousheh Ansari in 2006 (10 days, $20 million);
  • Video game developer (and son of an astronaut) Richard Garriott in 2008 (12 days, $30 million);
  • Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté became the first Canadian space tourist in 2009 (12 days, $35 million);
  • and Charles Simonyi, the father of the Microsoft Office suite and the only private citizen to go twice. (10 days, $20 million in 2007; 14 days, $35 million in 2009).

Space travel today and beyond

Today there are four companies that want to take people to space: Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Boeing. A fifth, Orion Span, planned to send travelers to stay at a space hotel but shut down in March.

In 2019, NASA itself said it plans to welcome tourists to the ISS, using both Boeing and SpaceX ships. But those trips would be pretty costly: $35,000 a night to stay on the ISS, and $50 million for the trip there and back. They're planning to start sending people next year.

Both Virgin and Blue Origin will compete in the suborbital race to space. Virgin Galactic is planning to charge each space hopeful around $250,000 per flight, and celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Bieber have shown interest. Blue Origin hasn't yet announced ticket prices or timelines, but Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, Wally Funk and the winner of an auction (who paid around $28 million) will fly up July 20.

SpaceX is the only private company planning to send people into orbit, and the only company with actual tickets booked, with one flight leaving as soon as September. Tickets for those flights will cost a cool $55 million.

So when can you go to space?

The current spaceflights are particularly expensive because there aren't many of them, said Jordan Bimm, a space historian at the University of Chicago and a fellow at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum. There aren't a ton of seats on the actual spacecraft, and the only people filling them are billionaires, friends of billionaires and professional astronauts who need to manage the flight, he said.

"Right now those are the only ways people can go to space, and people like you and me just do not have a pathway at this moment," he said. "That's what's holding us back."

In the next decade or so, Bimm said, the price and popularity of traveling to space could compare to a trip to Antarctica, which starts at about $20,000. He said if and when space companies "demonstrate repeat reliability and flawless execution," the number of available flights to space could increase and the price could go down a tad (but it would still be a pretty penny).

He added that space companies will try to profit off people just wanting to say "I went to space!" as incentives to sell the trip. The trips won't be long, if only a few minutes, but space tourists can technically still call themselves astronauts.

"It's sort of like dipping your toe in the ocean and then saying you swam in the ocean," he said. "It's a very, very brief visit. And I think what these space companies are doing is capitalizing off of this misunderstanding."

Still, you get your astronaut wings, and you can't just buy those. Not even with $50 million.

Protocol | Workplace

Productivity apps can’t stop making money

ClickUp had one of the biggest Series C funding rounds ever. Here's how it matches up to the other productivity unicorns.

ClickUp made $400 million in its series C funding round.

Photo: ClickUp

Productivity platform ClickUp announced a milestone today. The company raised $400 million, which is one of the biggest series C funding rounds in the workplace productivity market ever. The round, led by Andreessen Horowitz and Tiger Global, put the private company at a $4 billion valuation post-money.

In case it's not clear: This is a massive amount of money. It shows how hot the productivity space is right now, with some predicting the market size could reach almost $120 billion by 2028. In a world of hybrid workers, all-in-one tool platforms are all the rage among both startups and productivity stalwarts. Companies everywhere want to escape tool overwhelm, where work is spread across dozens of apps.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

If you've ever tried to pick up a new fitness routine like running, chances are you may have fallen into the "motivation vs. habit" trap once or twice. You go for a run when the sun is shining, only to quickly fall off the wagon when the weather turns sour.

Similarly, for many businesses, 2020 acted as the storm cloud that disrupted their plans for innovation. With leaders busy grappling with the pandemic, innovation frequently got pushed to the backburner. In fact, according to McKinsey, the majority of organizations shifted their focus mainly to maintaining business continuity throughout the pandemic.

Keep Reading Show less
Gaurav Kataria
Group Product Manager, Trello at Atlassian
The Supreme Court of the United States
Photo: Angel Xavier Viera-Vargas

If a company resolved a data breach in the past, does it need to disclose the potential negative fallout of that breach as a risk to investors later on? In a new petition asking the Supreme Court to take up the question, Alphabet is arguing emphatically: no. And it's using the ol' "the past is history, tomorrow's a mystery" defense.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Protocol | Workplace

Facebook’s hiring crisis: Engineers are turning down offers

"All of you are now starting to experience that major imbalance between supply and demand — and it doesn't feel good," a recruiting leader wrote in an internal memo.

Here are all the Facebook Papers stories
Image: Getty Images, Protocol

Facebook cannot find enough candidates to meet engineering demand, especially in the Bay Area, and has struggled and failed to meet early 2021 recruiting goals, according to a detailed internal memo outlining recruitment strategy and hiring pains.

The company also failed to meet hiring goals in 2019, which frustrated CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and it built an ad-hoc team of leaders to create an emergency plan to address the painful shortage, according to disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by Frances Haugen's legal counsel. A consortium of news organizations, including Protocol, has reviewed the redacted versions received by Congress.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Theranos trial reveals DeVos family invested $100 million

The family committed "on the spot" to double its investment, an investment adviser said. Meanwhile, the jury lost another two members, with two alternates left.

Betsy DeVos' family invested $100 million in Theranos, an investment adviser said.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Lisa Peterson, a wealth manager for the DeVos family, testified in Elizabeth Holmes's criminal fraud trial Tuesday, as prosecutors continued to highlight allegations about how the Theranos CEO courted investors in the once-high-flying blood-testing startup.

An email presented by the defense revealed that the family committed to doubling their investment in Theranos to $100 million "on the spot" during a 2014 visit to company headquarters.

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma
Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol, where she writes about management, leadership and workplace issues in tech. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at mma@protocol.com.
Latest Stories