Who Has Been To Space, And Who Hasn’t? Depends On Your Definition | Space

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Where does outer space begin? That’s a good question, given all of the recent activity in the aeronautics and space tourism areas, much of it within the private sector.

During the Cold War with the former Soviet Union, it was an orbit of the Earth which the average Joe considered space. Soviet Yuri Gagarin was the first person in space by that standard, reaching a height of 203 miles, although two later NASA Mercury flights by Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom muddied the waters. While the two didn’t orbit the Earth like Gagarin, they did reach extreme suborbital altitudes of 116 miles and 103 miles, respectively. All other NASA flights from that point on were orbital.

Then there were X-15 suborbital test pilots who in 1963 flew their rocket-planes as high as 67 miles. And, most recently, two private space tourism companies – Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic – are selling suborbital flight tickets to the wealthy for between $450,000 and $1 million each. These missions reach altitudes in excess of 50 miles.

Let’s first say that, according to the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, space begins at the Karman Line, 100 km (62 miles) up. This definition is the current international gold standard, and obviously includes all orbital flights. It’s supported by the fact that to win the $10-million Ansari X Prize, the same private spacecraft had to be flown above the Karman Line twice within two weeks, carrying a pilot and the equivalent weight of two passengers.

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