Since 1961, when Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to ride into space, fewer than 1,000 people have experienced the thrill of space travel and less than 20 have walked on the moon. The rest of us have watched, waiting for the day when space travel might become as commonplace as airplane travel. Looking at recent odds, the chance that you or I will make it into space seems fairly slim -- in 1998, only 32 of the 6 billion people on Earth made trips into space. That gives you about a 200,000,000:1 shot, which means you have a better chance of winning the lottery than riding into space.
Photo courtesy NASA
A space elevator would allow space travel without the need for rocket fuel.
There are several reasons why space hasn't opened up as a tourist destination where we might spend a week at a lunar hotel or take a celestial cruise. The main reason is the shipping costs. With today's technology, it costs about $10,000 per pound ($22,000/kg) to put anything into orbit. At those prices, a 150-pound person would have to pay $1,500,000 for a ticket to space. Getting the necessary materials into space to build a hotel there would cost in the hundreds of billions of dollars, at least.
However, while today's technology is hampering our plans to hike up Martian mountains, there are several solutions under development that could make mass space transit a reality in this century. Our best bet is NASA's idea to build a space elevator. In this edition of How Stuff Will Work, we'll take a look at space elevators and find out how they might be your ticket into orbit.