How to be a space traveller when you aren't Richard Branson

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You might not be able to afford a trip on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic or Elon Musk’s SpaceX, but there are plenty of amazing ways to can experience the cosmos without leaving the atmosphere.

Annular Eclipse over New Mexico

Go on a Solar Eclipse tour

Most years, there’s a solar eclipse somewhere in the world. A number of tour companies run trips to view the events: travelling to the best place to see them and offering guided tours and events. In August 2017, there’s going to be a significant solar eclipse in the American west: check out this list of tours and events from the American Astronomical Society.

Northern lights - Aurora borealis over Reine, Lofoten, Norway

See the Northern or Southern lights

The polar lights, or Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australia, are an incredible display of colours caused by solar winds. Usually green, but sometimes red or blue, the vivid displays are usually on display in between late autumn and early spring in each hemisphere. Alaska, Scotland, Scandinavia and Estonia are great places to check out the Northern Lights, while Tasmania, New Zealand’s South Island, Antarctica and southern Chile are the best places for the Southern Lights. 

Starry Skies in Mount Cook National Park

Visit one of the darkest place on earth

While you’re on New Zealand’s South Island to see the lights, visit the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. Light pollution is strictly controlled in the 4300 square kilometre area, one of only eight such places in the world. Big Sky Stargazing tours at Mt Cook offer guided tours to star gazing sites, including the use of telescopes, to enjoy the southern skies.

NASA Launch Control at Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral

Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Centre

If you’re interested in the history of the American space program, it’s a pretty tight toss-up between the Smithsonian Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia and the Kennedy Space Centre, but if you can manage to coincide your trip with a rocket launch, the Kennedy Centre gets a slight edge. The visitor centre has all kinds of artefacts, including the space shuttle Atlantis, and the bus tour allows you to visit historic launch sites. Keep an eye on their event calendar here to try to align your trip with a launch but be warned: launches are often postponed due to weather.  

Atacama Desert with wild Flamingos, Chile

Atacama Desert, Chile, 

The frozen desert of northern Chile provides some of the best star-gazing on the planet. With high altitude (it’s 2200m above sea level), skies that are usually clear, and the little light pollution, it’s an amazing place to see the stars. Take one of the amazing range of stargazing tours on offer, including the opportunity to camp overnight in the desert for a night you won’t forget. And as a bonus, the Atacama desert is thought to be quite similar to Mars and is used by scientists for testing equipment bound for the red planet. It might be as close as you ever get to visiting our nearest celestial neighbour.