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How to enter space after NASA's last shuttle flight

Today, the era of NASA's space shuttle came to an end. But, fear not, because we've spotted plenty of other ways to get your space wings.

Today was the day we kissed our childhood dreams goodbye and witnessed the launch of NASA's last space shuttle. But we have the balm to soothe the bitter shuttle sadness. Transfer your love for the button-nosed white whale of the skies to our selection of space-flavoured opportunities, some of which you might actually be able to hitch a ride on.

Resurrected Soviet space shuttle

It looked like the NASA shuttle and flew like the NASA shuttle, but it was called Buran (pictured above). The slavish Soviet homage to the shuttle never flew a mission with a crew, but, in 1988, it did launch into a low orbit around Earth and land successfully, all by remote control.

Buran had several advantages over the space shuttle. It had safety systems designed to let the crew escape trouble, including an escape pod on the launch pad. It also forwent the dangerous foam-covered external tank that caused the untimely end of the space shuttle Columbia, in favour of a foam-free rocket.

On a slight downside, according to cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, it was designed to drop nukes on the West from space.

Sadly, we can't simply dust off Buran and put it back into action. The prototype which orbited the Earth was destroyed in 2002 when its storage hanger collapsed, killing seven workers. Here's hoping that Kazakhstan, which inherited the launcher, will at least sell us the bits and we can reassemble it as our weekend project.

SpaceX

What could be more futuristic and inspiring than the letter X? Nothing. Enter SpaceX, the private company that promises to bring space in on time and under budget.

SpaceX has been firing its Falcon rockets into space since 2008. In 2010, it launched its Dragon cargo capsule into orbit and safely parachuted it down -- the first private company to achieve such a feat.

This has resulted in SpaceX becoming NASA's go-to company for eventually sending cargo to the International Space Station. Ferrying living, breathing people won't be far behind, says SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who made his millions with PayPal.

China

China isn't just home to a few billion folks, pandas, and Olympic glory. It's also got the hottest space programme on Earth, thanks to a powerful ambition to paint the sky red. Consequently, it's time we learned to say please in Chinese, as in: "Please can we hitch a ride on Tiangong 1, your soon-to-be-built space station?"

China is also working on putting humans back on the moon in the next 20 years, which makes it pretty much the only way that we're likely to get the crater-side cabin anytime soon.

Virgin Galactic

Unless you've got some close friends in the National People's Congress, the majority of us are most likely to see the sparkly-warklies of space from a Virgin Galactic craft.

Tickets cost $200,000 (£125, 00) but you only have to put down a tenth of that to book your seat. You'll join five other passengers in a sub-orbital trip up to 21,000m, including six minutes of weightlessness. That should be enough time to do some flips and stuff, although you won't quite earn the right to high-five John Glenn.