The mini space race to send civilians to the moon is light-years away. Why wait? In September, the American Museum of Natural History's Discovery Tours launches a travel program that allows you to do almost everything to become an astronaut--except leave planet Earth. For $30,000 a person, the two-week "Earth Orbit" immersion trains 15 space tourists side by side with Russian cosmonauts and former U.S. astronauts.
Thanks to the museum's unparalleled NASA contacts, the crew visits three space centers in the United States, including restricted areas where techies are busy designing the next unmanned spacecraft. Then it's off to Moscow to Russia's Star City, a facility only recently opened to nonmilitary personnel. After a physical exam (this is serious stuff), participants have the opportunity to work alongside cosmonauts during a regular business day. Experience a zero-gravity flight for up to five minutes, take a ride aboard the world's largest centrifuge--and endure forces three times that of Earth's gravity--or take a dive in a Zero Buoyancy Hydrolab to repair an underwater scale model of the International Space Station.
But what's a space trip without a launch? The big finale is a journey to the desert to witness the launch of a replacement crew headed to the space station. Stand next to the heads of both NASA and the Russian Space Agency, listening to live audio as the control room monitors the climb. Onboard will be one space tourist, a U.S. tech entrepreneur who paid $20 million for a front-row seat. Everyone else will have to make do with taking lots of pictures.