William Shatner went to space. Here's how much it would cost you.
It's the dawn of a new space age.
William Shatner, who for decades explored space on screen as "Star Trek's" Captain Kirk, finally launched into the final frontier.
"Everybody in the world needs to do this," he said. "Everybody in the world needs to see it."
On Wednesday, the 90-year-old became the oldest person in space, a title briefly held by Mary Wallace "Wally" Funk and previously held by legendary astronaut John Glenn. At age 82, Funk, a longtime champion of women in space, joined Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on Blue Origin's flight to the edge of space in July.
What does this mean for the future of civilian space travel? Will space become the next ultimate human amusement park?
NASA Director Phil McAlister weighs in after more than 20 years working in the space industry.
►'I hope I never recover': William Shatner gets emotional after historic Blue Origin flight
►Sorry, Jeff Bezos: You're still not an astronaut, according to the FAA
How much does it cost to go into space?
It depends, says McAlister. For a trip on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin's New Shepard, seats typically cost $250,000 to $500,000.
"Those are suborbital transportation systems. They are about a 15-minute ride, and they just barely touch the edge of space and then come back down. They don't go into orbit," McAlister says.
SpaceX's Inspiration4 mission in September was different.
The spacecraft of civilians was in orbit and circling the Earth for three days, similar to orbital spaceflight required for astronauts to get to the International Space Station.
►The Inspiration4 mission: No professional astronauts: SpaceX will launch first all-civilian crew into orbit tonight
Jared Isaacman, a 38-year-old billionaire high-school dropout who promoted the flight as a massive fundraising effort for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, paid for it all.
Issacman, a pilot who is qualified to fly commercial and military jets, reached a deal with SpaceX in late 2020 for the mission.
Neither is saying how much he paid SpaceX, an Elon Musk-founded company, for the launch, though Isaacman has said it was far less than the $200 million he hoped to raise for St. Jude.
For NASA astronauts, McAlister says, orbital trips can have a $58 million price tag, based on averages calculated from commercial contracts with SpaceX and Boeing.
While $58 million may seem like a lot, it's actually a great bargain for NASA.
After retiring its space shuttle, NASA had to pay Russia around $80 million for each seat on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
The privatization of space by American companies
This initiative to partner public and private resources for American space exploration has been years in the making.
NASA has been working with SpaceX and Boeing on their systems for the last 10 years, transferring their knowledge from more than 60 years of human spaceflight and innovation in low Earth orbit.
"During that 60 years, only about 600 people have flown the space, and the vast majority of them have been government astronauts. I think in the next 60 years, that number is going to go up dramatically, and the vast majority of them are going to be private citizens," McAlister says.
►Inspiration4 mission makes history: Cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux to become youngest American in space with SpaceX launch
The goal for NASA is to eventually retire the International Space Station and allow companies to build their own space stations with the latest technological designs that require less maintenance.
In the future, astronauts could just rent seats on space shuttles and stay at rooms in space stations, similar to how business travelers buy plane tickets from airlines and sleep in hotels.
"If you remember back when airline travel first debuted, it was very expensive, and it was only for the very wealthy that can afford it. And then entrepreneurs entered the market. Forces of competition brought prices down to the point where today, most people, not everybody, but most people can afford a flight from New York to California," says McAlister. "I'm hoping that the same thing happens with human space transportation."
What would a trip to space look like?
Getting onto a spaceship definitely wouldn't be as simple as a check-in process at the airport. The participants on Inspiration4 had to train for months, understand spacecraft systems and prepare for the physical toll of space.
Here's who joined billionaire Jared Isaacman on the mission:
►Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude. She was treated for bone cancer herself at the hospital as a child.
►Chris Sembroski, an aerospace worker from Seattle who was selected from among 72,000 entries based donations to St. Jude.
►Sian Proctor, an educator and trained pilot who was a finalist in NASA's 2009 astronaut class.
SpaceX and Isaacman unveiled their project to the world in a TV ad that ran during the Super Bowl in February encouraging people to apply for the mission.
The crew ran a series of experiments related to health research, such as drawing blood and measuring sleep activity.
Research institutes and medical schools will use the data to understand how the human body is affected by space, and how to make space a potential travel, or living, destination.
In a SpaceX press briefing, SpaceX Director Benji Reed said, "We want to make life multiplanetary, and that means putting millions of people in space."
McAlister also imagined that a big chunk of the crew's time was spent just looking out the window, staring in awe at the curvature of the Earth and the thin blue line of atmosphere encircling it.
"You can see the Earth, the whole Earth from space, and there's no boundaries. There's no borders, and you feel a connectedness to the human race that you didn't necessarily feel before," says McAlister. "You come back with a better appreciation for our home planet."
Florida Day contributed. Michelle Shen is a Money & Tech Digital Reporter for USATODAY. You can reach her @michelle_shen10 on Twitter.