Space--the new summer vacation?

Companies are lining up to provide space vacations or out-of-this-world taxi services. Video: SpaceX aims for the skies

CORONADO, Calif.--Heading up into space is getting to be a bargain.

For $100 million a seat, Space Adventures will book people on a future three-week tour, including 16 days at the International Space Station and a five-day side trip to the moon. Only two seats are available, though. And if you're on a budget, it's just $20 million to just visit the space station for a week.

Space Adventures and SpaceX are two companies trying to make a go of private space flights. Space Adventures has already launched a space tourism business, although traffic has been limited. It now wants to book passengers over the next few years on an extended visit to orbit the moon, Chris Faranetta, vice president of the orbital space flight program at Space Adventures, said at the Future in Review conference here.

Elon Musk, who co-founded PayPal, also spoke at the conference about SpaceX, his latest project aimed at developing a commercial space trucking business. SpaceX recently tested its first satellite launch on behalf of the Department of Defense's DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) program. In March, the Falcon One rocket crashed in the Pacific Ocean off the Kwajalein atoll in the Marshall Islands, but the satellite survived the crash, Musk said, and rocket science is, of course, rocket science.

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Video: SpaceX aims for the skies
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Both men feel strongly that it will take corporate investments in order to further the space program during an era of transition for NASA. "The only way we are going to become a multiplanet species is through private enterprise," Musk said. "Governments are terrible about cost optimization."

Falcon One will get your 1,500-pound satellite into space for just $6.7 million. SpaceX's largest rocket, the Falcon 9, will be capable of carrying passengers by the end of 2007, and a flight will cost $27 million. By comparison, NASA's proposal for a new manned vehicle will cost $500 million, Musk said.

Space Adventures is working closely with the Russian space program. It used the Soyuz spacecraft to send its earlier passengers into space and plans to stick with that vehicle for a while, Faranetta said. By 2008, it hopes to sign up two customers for the lunar expedition, which will come within 60 miles of the moon, he said.

Competition is growing among private companies for suborbital and orbital space flight, partly because of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne victory in the Ansari X contest a few years ago. Virgin Galactic, backed by Virgin Atlantic boss Richard Branson, also wants to participate in privately funded space flight.

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