Ever since I was young, I’ve been a fan of the idea of bucket lists. I’ve had many over the years, with lots of different activities on them. As I’ve grown older, I’ve started to separate them out into the different areas of life that I want to experience: life accomplishments, travel, and space. In the end, I took many of my funny and fun space dreams and turned them into a space tourism bucket list.
If you love space too, you might want inspiration to keep exploring. Even though most of us won’t ever leave earth, there are still numerous ways we can appreciate and enjoy space. Whether you try to tick off all the items on my space tourism bucket list or just use it to inspire your own, I hope it encourages you to get out there and make time for space.
1. Watch a Rocket Launch
I’ll never forget my first rocket launch. It was truly awe-inspiring to watch a manmade object defy gravity – one of the insurmountable facts of physics. Seeing the rocket lift ever so slowly from the launchpad, hearing and feeling the deep rumble of the engines, and knowing that we are capable of so much as a species when we use ingenuity and creativity… Well, it just gives you a lot of hope for our future, if we can all get aligned on the common goals!
2. Watch a Crewed Rocket Launch
The only rocket launch I’ve seen was an uncrewed flight, the Orion EFT-1 launch in late 2014. I can only imagine that all of the emotions are much more heightened when you know there are fellow humans aboard a rocket that’s about to take off.
While I’ve watched many crewed launches on livestreams (thanks, SpaceX!), it’s still on my space tourism bucket list to see one in person and feel those emotions even more intensely.
3. Watch a Landing or Splashdown
Historically, watching a landing wasn’t a thing – and watching a splashdown was very uncommon since only the various world governments launched to space. But thanks to SpaceX and the increasing development of the commercial space industry, we now have much greater access to watch both launches and landings (on earth or in the water).
It’s a great symmetry to see a launch and landing if possible; not all missions offer this though, so you have to plan ahead if you want to tick #1, #2, and #3 off your list in a single rocket launch trip!
4. See a Mercury Capsule
The next section of this space tourism bucket list is definitely focused on the space accomplishments of the United States, with the exception of #8. This is in part because it’s easier to travel to the U.S. compared with Russia or China – the two other major players on the global space stage. It’s also because our space exploration history has been preserved and put on display across the country.
First up, I recommend starting at the beginning: you’ve gotta see a Mercury capsule to appreciate what it took for us to reach space in the first place. These tiny capsules took just one man at a time to space; six in total set milestones for space exploration in these capsules.
Here’s where you can see Mercury capsules:
- Freedom 7 is located at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, MA
- Liberty Bell 7 is at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, KS
- Friendship 7 is permanently on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.
- Aurora 7 is located at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, IL
- Sigma 7 is at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida
- Faith 7 (pictured above) is at Space Center Houston near NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX
5. See a Gemini Capsule
Similarly, the Gemini program capsules gives you an appreciation for how tough life in space was for the earliest astronauts – they somehow fit two guys into these capsules!
If you want to see a Gemini capsule, they’re on display too:
- Gemini 3 is at the Grissom Memorial Museum in Mitchell, IN
- Both Gemini 4 and Gemini 7 capsules are at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC (along with Friendship 7)
- Gemini 5 is located at Space Center Houston in Houston, TX (along with Faith 7)
- Gemini 6-A is at the Stafford Air and Space Museum in Weatherford, OK
- The Gemini 8 capsule is at the Neil Armstrong Museum in Wapakoneta, OH
- Gemini 9-A is at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida (along with Sigma 7)
- Gemini 10 is the only Gemini capsule not at an American museum, and is located at the Norwegian Technical Museum in Oslo, Norway
- The Gemini 11 capsule is at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, CA
- Gemini 12 is at the Alder Planetarium in Chicago, IL
6. See an Apollo Capsule
The third phase of American space exploration was the well-known Apollo program. Seeing these command modules is fascinating; they are among objects that have been the furthest from and returned to earth. You can’t see any of the moon landers but these command modules helped make the moon landings possible and are definitely worth putting on your space tourist bucket list.
Here’s where the Apollo command modules are located:
- Apollo 6 is at the Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta, Georgia
- Apollo 7 is at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas
- The Apollo 8 command module is at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois (along with Aurora 7)
- Gumdrop, the Apollo 9 module, is on display at the San Diego Air & Space Museum in San Diego, California
- Charlie Brown (Apollo 10) is the one Apollo capsule that is located internationally, at the Science Museum in London, England
- The Apollo 11 command module, Charlie Brown, is on display at the The National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
- Yankee Clipper, the Apollo 12 module, is at the Virginia Air & Space Center in Hampton, Virginia
- Odyssey, the Apollo 13 module, is located at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas (along with Liberty Bell 7)
- The Apollo 14 module, Kitty Hawk, lives at Kennedy Space Center in Florida
- Endeavour, the Apollo 15 module, is at the USAF Museum on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio
- Casper, the Apollo 16 module, is at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama (where Space Camp is located!)
- Finally, America, the Apollo 17 module, is at Space Center Houston in Houston, Texas (along with Faith 7 and Gemini 5)
7. See a Space Shuttle
As they were originally envisioned, the Space Shuttle program would have been a pinnacle of technological success in the 20th century. They were intended to provide affordable and reusable access to space. Unfortunately, as with many government space programs across history and the globe, the costs and timelines were vastly underestimated and the Shuttle program ended in the early 21st century.
Nevertheless, the Space Shuttles are still an important chapter in our space-faring history, and worth a visit. There are five Space Shuttles you can visit:
- Enterprise – A prototype that actually never visited space, Enterprise is located at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City, New York.
- Endeavour – Built to replace Challenger, Endeavour is housed at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. (Along with the Gemini 11 capsule.)
- Atlantis – The last Shuttle to fly, Atlantis is on display at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
- Discovery – Another of the original Shuttles, Discovery is located at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
- Independence – Another shuttle that never flew, Independence was always a public-facing replica of the Shuttles. It is now at Space Center Houston in Texas.
If you’re keeping track, this means that Space Center Houston is the only place you can see a Mercury capsule, Gemini capsule, Apollo command module, and Space Shuttle in a single museum. (The National Air & Space Museum’s collection is located in two different facilities.) Maybe I should just have put “Visit Space Center Houston” on this list instead!)
8. Go inside a Space Shuttle
9. See a Buran Shuttle
The Buran is the Russian equivalent to the American Space Shuttle program; it’s much harder to see a Buran shuttle than a U.S. space shuttle because of their location and limited access. In fact, there is no museum where the Buran are on display; they are technically at the “Baikonur Cosmodrome Museum”. But the building that houses the Buran remnants is closed to public access at this time.
This is one of those space tourism bucket list activities you’ll have to leave to the end… Hopefully Russia will come up with a plan to display these artefacts someday!
10. See an Orion Capsule
Moving into the modern era, the next type of space craft that’s a must-see is the Orion capsule. I was lucky to see an Orion in-progress at Michoud, NASA’s rocket factory (next on this list) – and I’ve seen a few mock-ups at other NASA facilities over the years (#12).
While the tenure of the Constellation/Orion/Space Launch System program may not be as long as originally envisioned, Orion is the current next-generation spacecraft that NASA is building to take humans to space. Likely Orion capsules will someday be in museums too.
11. Visit a Rocket Factory
I had the chance to visit Michoud in 2018 as part of a NASA Social and was hooked. If rocket launches are impressive, rocket factories are almost the equally so. (I also visited the ULA factory in Georgia when I went to Huntsville later that same year.)
Admittedly though, it’s hard to visit a rocket factory. Whether it’s NASA’s rocket factory, Michoud in New Orleans, a government contractor, or a private company, they tend to keep their secrets close. That said, if you have the chance to tour a rocket factory, definitely take the opportunity! You’ll get a sense for how huge rockets really are and a peek behind the curtain at all of the technology and manpower it takes to make one fly.
12. Visit All of the NASA Facilities
Did you know there are 17 NASA facilities across the country? They serve a number of different purposes; each one has its own mission which is part of the greater NASA mission to drive “advances in science, technology, aeronautics, and space exploration to enhance knowledge, education, innovation, economic vitality and stewardship of Earth.”
While it’ll take a while, visiting each NASA facility will give you a chance to see the agency from different angles based on the work each one does. If you’re not up for visiting all of them, here are the ones I think are absolute must-dos for your space tourism bucket list:
- Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the home of crewed launches in the U.S.
- Johnson Space Center in Texas, which is where NASA astronauts are trained.
- Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, where NASA oversees International Space Station operations and historic test flights occurred.
- The Jet Propulsion Lab in California, where orbiters, landers, and rovers are designed, tested, and operated.
13. See a Falcon 9 Booster
Whether it’s at a launch or outside the SpaceX HQ in Hawthorne, California, I’d be remiss to exclude seeing the rocket most credited with opening aerospace to commercial development. The SpaceX Falcon rocket will go down in history, and the easiest way to see one is standing outside their factory in California. It’s literally right there on the street corner protected by glass and perfect for a photo opp!
14. See a Dragon Capsule
There aren’t many at this point, but one more spacecraft for your space tourism bucket list is to see a SpaceX Dragon capsule. The Dragon is the first privately-built (non-governmental) capsule to reach the International Space Station – and the first one to carry American astronauts to space. At this point, all Dragons are on display privately within SpaceX facilities, but undoubtedly at least one will end up in a museum someday!
15. Watch a Meteor Shower
Moving on from spacecraft, let’s talk about the astronomy events you need to see someday. First up, one of the easiest: see a meteor shower!
There are 12 major meteor showers each year: the Quadrantids in January, the Lyrids in April, the Eta Aquariids in May, the Delta Aquariids and Alpha Capricornids in July, the Perseids in August, the Draconids, Orionids, and Taurids in October, the Leonids in November, and the Geminids and Ursids in December.
This gives you a dozen chances to get out and see shooting stars at their most active times of the year.
16. See the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)
Seeing the northern lights isn’t just a good one for your space tourism bucket list – it’s one of the most popular bucket list items in the world for everyone!
If you want to see the northern lights, you’ll need to travel to one of the aurora destinations in the northern hemisphere during the darker months of the year. To inspire you and get you started planning a trip, here are 25 of the best northern lights destinations in the world, and what you need to know before seeing the aurora.
17. See the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights)
Less common and harder to see, did you know there are also southern lights? Also called the Aurora Australis, they are caused by the same astronomical phenomena as the northern lights. But, the southern lights are only visible from a few countries and locations on the southern hemisphere. Five, specifically; here are the best destinations around the world to see the southern lights.
18. Watch a Lunar Eclipse
Next up on your space tourism bucket list, it’s worth it to make an effort to try and see a lunar eclipse. Lunar eclipses are easier to see than solar eclipses, as they are visible from larger portions of the earth when they occur. Here are the next 10 lunar eclipses to put on your calendar if you want to tick this one off your list:
- May 26, 2021 – Total Lunar Eclipse
- Nov 19, 2021 – Partial Lunar Eclipse
- May 16, 2022 – Total Lunar Eclipse
- Nov 8, 2022 – Total Lunar Eclipse
- Mar 14, 2025 – Total Lunar Eclipse
- Sep 7, 2025 – Total Lunar Eclipse
- Mar 3, 2026 – Total Lunar Eclipse
- Dec 31, 2028 – Total Lunar Eclipse
- Jun 26, 2029 – Total Lunar Eclipse
- Dec 20–21, 2029 – Total Lunar Eclipse
As for the difference between total and partial lunar eclipses, you can learn more about that in my breakdown of different eclipse types.
19. Watch a Solar Eclipse
Less common and harder to experience without traveling, a solar eclipse is one of the most fascinating experiences you can have on earth. The special alignment of the sun, moon, and earth remind us of our place in the solar system.
There are three types of solar eclipse: partial (where the moon blocks part of the sun), annular (also called a ring of fire eclipse), and total (#17, more on that below!). If you’re planning to travel and experience one, be sure to do your research on the different types of eclipses so you know what to expect.
20. Experience Totality during a Solar Eclipse
Experiencing totality is the most difficult and rare eclipse experience to have; totality passes across a small band of the earth even when a solar eclipse occurs and partiality is visible across a much bigger area.
Totality is the most impressive astronomical experience I’ve ever had. Watching the sky go dark as the sun is completely obscured by the moon is an otherworldly and ethereal phenomena. Once you’ve experienced it once, you’ll see why some people become “umbraphiles” – eclipse chasers.
Here are the upcoming total solar eclipses, and where totality will be visible for each:
- December 4, 2012 – Across Antarctica
- April 20, 2023 – Over Australia’s West Coast and into Southeast Asia
- April 8, 2024 – Across North America from Mexico to Southeast Canada
- August 12, 2026 – Over the Iberian Peninsula, Iceland, Greenland, and the Arctic
- August 2, 2027 – Across North Africa and the Middle East
21. Meet an Astronaut
Keeping it here on earth, one of the best parts of being a space fan is getting to meet those few select people who’ve actually been to space. Yep, I’m talking about astronauts.
There are several hundred astronauts alive today, and that number is only expected to increase in future decades as space tourism becomes a reality and more people have the chance to go. That said, meeting a NASA astronaut is one of the most fun opportunities. NASA astronauts are trained in public relations and outreach, so they’re great conversationalists and have truly fascinating stories from whichever mission(s) they served on.
22. Try Astronaut Ice Cream
Okay, so when you meet that astronaut be sure to ask them if astronaut ice cream is real. (Spoilers: it’s not!)
That said, astronaut ice cream is one of those weird things you just have to try once. It’s just freeze dried ice cream, and comes in a number of common flavors. It’s definitely a novelty, but one of those space novelties that you gotta try at least once.
23. Go to Space Camp
Let’s move into some space tourist experiences that should be on your bucket list. These vary from earth-based to truly astronomical… As you’ll see, you need a lifetime to accomplish them all.
First up is Space Camp, probably the easiest one to accomplish if you’re willing to save up a bit. Space Camp is a fun experience for all ages – including adults (I had the chance to go in 2018 and this is what it was like). You’ll get the chance to suit up, try some astronaut training, and learn a ton about what it’s really like to go to space. The experience is focused on NASA since Space Camp is a partner with NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center next door, but they work hard to keep it cutting edge with the latest missions.
24. Visit a Crater Site
If you love travel and space, this one’s for you. Did you know there are pock-mark signs across the planet, where we’ve historically been hit by huge meteors. These are fascinating places to learn about astronomy through its historic record, and a great way to introduce kids to the powerful forces at play in our galaxy.
Here are some of the coolest craters you can visit:
- Gosses Bluff Crater in Western Australia, where a 22km diameter meteor crashed into the Outback 142 million years ago.
- Kaali Crater Field in Estonia, where a meteor broke apart before hitting the Earth and created a field of beautiful lakes now surrounded by a modern forest.
- Barringer Crater, also called Meteor Crater, is in Arizona and is one of the most popular craters to visit.
I also have a complete list of craters worth visiting, if you want even more inspiration and to see where craters are located across the globe.
25. Experience Zero Gravity
Okay, you’re going to have to save up for this one: a flight to experience ‘zero gravity’ (which is really microgravity) costs about $5,000 per person. This one is definitely still on my personal bucket list!
The main company that offers zero gravity flights is – unsurprisingly – called ZeroG. They offer flights around the country on a specially outfitted airplane that does a unique flightpath including several parabolic arcs which allow you to experience different types of gravity and the lack thereof.
26. Go to Space or Low Earth Orbit
Next up on your space tourism bucket list: actually go to space!
Right now, we’re on the cusp of space tourism, so it might not seem like this one is possible. But with enough money and/or time, I think many people will have the chance to cross the Karmán line (the official line between earth and space) or go to Low Earth Orbit at some point during their lives.
Currently, you’d need to book a seat with SpaceX or Space Adventures if you want to go to space. In the future, that list will expand to include Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and other space companies that don’t even exist yet.
27. Experience the Overview Effect
While you’re up there, you know, in space, be sure to look out the window. That’s how you can experience the Overview Effect, one of the most powerful psychological experiences possible.
The Overview Effect occurs when astronauts look out and see the earth from space and realize how precious and special our planet is. Many are inspired to share their experience through art or other media, and many also come back as ardent environmentalists seeking to protect the Earth.
If you beat me to finishing this one on your space tourism bucket list, be sure to let me know how it goes!
28. Visit the International Space Station
Okay, big spender! If this one is on your list, you’d better start saving now – or at least buying lotto tickets. It costs about $55 million to visit the International Space Station, and there are only a few opportunities to do so – through Space Adventures/Roscosmos or SpaceX/NASA.
Based on how much you can pay, you can book a seat to and from space, plus spend about a week on the ISS. Usually that means helping astronauts with their work and participating in research about the human body in space. It’s definitely a unique vacation if you’re able to make it happen someday!
29. Touch a Meteorite
As mentioned above when discussing meteor showers (#15) and craters (#24), it should come as no surprise that we occasionally find remnants of that space debris. Some people collect meteors, and you can even buy them on the internet!
Touching a meteorite isn’t hard to do if you want to find one. If you’re not up for buying one on the internet, you can usually find them at space fairs and star parties to celebrate astronomy events. (I held the one pictured above at Astronomy Day in 2018.)
30. Touch a Moon Rock
When the Apollo astronauts came back from their missions, they brought back samples. Most of these are stored in NASA vaults and studied, but some have been put on display for the public to experience. At a few select museums – including Space Center Houston and the National Air & Space Museum – have moon rock samples you can actually touch! (Yet another reason to add those two museums to your space tourism bucket list!)
31. Touch a Mars Rock
When it comes to touching stuff from space, Mars rocks are the hardest to find. That’s because we haven’t actually brought any back from Mars – the only ones you’ll find are meteorites from Mars that crashed into earth millions of years ago.
Astronomers only know they’re Mars rocks in the first place because they have the same geological composition as Mars based on the rovers and landers we have sent to Mars so far.
32. Name a Star
I remember growing up and learning that you could name a star. It didn’t seem possible that we could be allowed to name the stars… but it is definitely possible and allowed!
There are a lot of services that allow you to name a star, including the International Star Registry, Star Register, Star Name Registry, and Star Registration. Some offer different options too, including stars within a constellation (so they’re easier to find) and binary stars (perfect for couples!).
33. Purchase Your Space Burial
While it’s sort of implied from the whole “bucket list” idea, we can’t get through this list without talking about death!
If you want the final space tourist activity before passing into the next realm or whatever’s out there, be sure to arrange your affairs before you go. Beyond Burials offers space burial; your remains will be launched to space and released. You can also choose from one of four space-themed memorial experiences that your loved ones can participate in as part of the process.
It’s a bit macabre, but if you’ve gotta go – you might as well go in style and end up out among the stars.
Are there any space tourism bucket list items I missed? Let me know which one is #1 on your list in the comments!