What's it like to be a space tourist?

We talk to Charles Simonyi, the man behind Microsoft Office, about what it's like to be a space tourist.

If, like us, you grew up watching too many dodgy sci-fi space operas for your own good and dreaming of being an astronaut, then tickets for a trip on a civilian spacecraft would probably top your fantasy Christmas list.

Nobody is that generous, so if you want to boldly go where no-one has gone before, you'll have to take matters into your own hands. All you'll need is £20m in the bank, a stack of PhDs and fluent Russian. Even with those ticked off, you'd have to travel on board a Russian-built Soyuz space rocket, which is based on 1960s technology and looks as if it belongs in a Bond villain's underground lair.

One man who refuses to let the dream die is film-maker and boffin Professor Christopher Riley. He's just released First Orbit, a film that recreates cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's first space flight 50 years ago.

"Human space flight is something that partly defines us as human beings," he says. "When we cease to explore, we cease to be human a little bit. On-earth and now off-earth exploration has defined us throughout our (recent) history."

In 2011 it seems that the options for would-be spacemen are more limited than ever. NASA's space shuttle touched down for the last time on 21 July this year after 30 years of service.

NASA's dream of an affordable, reusable spacecraft fell back to earth amid controversy over its $200bn budget and the Columbia and Challenger disasters, which killed 14 astronauts.

In this report we ask what happened to the space race and why the Americans ditched the space shuttle. We talk to one man who paid the money and bought the ticket, space tourist and Microsoft Office creator Charles Simonyi. And we look at the companies who want to send you into orbit sooner than you think, including Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic.

Would you let the man behind Virgin Trains fly you into space? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

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