Virgin Galactic is arguably the leading private space tourism company, having actually built their suborbital craft and carrier and having flown them both. Their web site and publications all look taken from a sci-fi movie, with weightlessness touted as a wonder worth $200,000. One of the slogans Virgin Galactic uses (in the training page) is "Feel the Freedom of Zero G."
However, there's a dirty little secret that no one over at Virgin Galactic is talking about - space-sickness, or its more scientific name, Space Adaptation Syndrome (SAS). Even with medication, most astronauts experience it when they go to space to varying degrees, from mild nausea or a headache to vomiting. SAS is a main reason that EVAs are done only after a few days in space, as vomiting inside a space suit is lethal. A hardly talked-about subject, one of the least pleasant experiences in the first few days in space, as attested by astronauts, is floating vomit. Even very short durations of micro-gravity, experienced on parabolic flights (much shorter than the several minutes on a suborbital flight) have earned airplanes that perform this kind of a flight profile the nick-name Vomit Comet.
Wait a minute. Over 50% of astronauts experience space-sickness? The same astronauts who are extremely fit and go through rigorous training for years before they go to space? The same who are in most cases fighter jet pilots, used to G-forces and other activities most people don't ever experience? So what should we expect with space tourists who train for only three days (according to Virgin Galactic) and probably have never experienced micro-gravity before? The same percentage? More?
Even if you're one of the lucky people not susceptible to space-sickness, you'll be sharing the cabin with five other passengers, thus conservatively, three or four of those will be nauseated, and with pretty high probability at least one will vomit, not enhancing the experience for everyone else, to say the least. After the few minutes of micro-gravity, the potential vomit floating in the cabin will go back to the floor, hopefully not meeting any passenger in the process, but even if everyone is so lucky, all of us who rode one too many roller-coasters in one day or ever had some stomach bug know that odor can be a problem in closed spaces such as a six-person cabin.
I encountered this subject twice in the past two weeks. The first time was when I talked with Mike Petrone (former Phantom pilot) on my way to Florida last week for the space shuttle Atlantis launch and the second time was The Space Show broadcast 1358, where David Livingston's guest was Dr. Erik Seedhouse and the topic was astronaut training and Erik's book, "Prepare for Launch". Erik talked about space-sickness among other subjects surrounding the demanding job of astronauts.
So... If you already bought your ticket on a future Virgin Galactic flight, congratulations - you're rich. Can you buy me a ticket too? If you haven't bought a ticket yet, just keep in mind that either you or the person next to you may turn a little green up there...