Humanity is rapidly approaching a new golden era of space travel, where commercial flights outside the earth's atmosphere are finally available, at least for those with the riches to pay for them. Perhaps even more excitingly, preparations are underway to send the first astronauts beyond the moon.
With space tourism for non-billionaires still out of reach, for now, it's good to know there are plenty of places right here on earth where you can explore the stars.
The legendary home of NASA's Mission Control Center was key to the Apollo moon landings. You can view the very room where Neil Armstrong's famous words were first heard on earth. However, the focus here is on the future, as much as the past. The aim is to inspire young people into STEM careers, so expect exhibitions of ground-breaking SpaceX reusable technology. The center is open for most of the year, with extended hours for impressive light displays over the holiday season.
If you're an intrepid traveler as well as a keen stargazer, make a trip to this other-worldly desert, which runs along the Pacific coasts of Chile and Peru. Arid conditions mean there's no cloud cover for around 200 nights per year. Combine this with the high altitude, and you have the perfect setting for views across the galaxy. Unsurprisingly, an international effort has been made to build observatories here, including the aptly named Extremely Large Telescope. The desert is best visited in summer, which runs from December to February.
The history of Western astronomy always leads back to the Royal Observatory. Visit the Great Equatorial Telescope inside the instantly recognizable onion dome, or visit the planetarium, which regularly hosts astronomer-led shows with impressive footage of the stars. No trip is complete without a selfie taken on the Greenwich meridian line, where the eastern and western hemispheres meet. While you're there, you can take in some great views over London, British weather permitting.
It's hard to imagine a more evocative place to observe the stars and planets than these mesmerizing dunes. Legend has it that the sea of sand was formed by God's wrath when a wealthy family refused to help a poverty-stricken woman and her son. Local tourism companies based around the village of Merzouga provide glamping facilities beneath stunning night skies, knowledgeable guided tours, and everything you'll need for the ultimate Moroccan desert experience. Temperatures can reach over 40 degrees Celsius in the summer months, so opt for a Spring or Autumn visit
Combine breathtaking views of the cosmos with the world's highest peaks. On a clear night, the lack of light pollution makes this UNESCO world heritage site in the Himalayas one of the planet's most awe-inspiring stargazing spots. You won't be surprised to learn that this location, close to Mount Everest, is suited to those who are up to the physical demands of trekking. Early Spring and late autumn have a lower chance of rain and the best chance of views across the galaxy.
This outback-located visitor attraction takes both a personal and universal approach to space exploration. Expert guides offer individual night-time tours for families to encourage an emotional connection with the Milky Way. Meanwhile, the Big Sky Observatory is famed for its dramatic roof opening, complete with music, to encourage visitors to look up and see the sky in all its glory. You'll also get unbelievable views of the planets through the center's powerful telescopes.
Get ready to see the "Greatest Space Adventure on Earth" at this fun-packed visitor attraction for the nearby NASA field center offers a chance to explore the history of space travel through the decades. Take the opportunity to get up close to iconic spacecraft like Saturn V and the Space Shuttle Atlantis and experience microgravity as part of your astronaut training. You can even buy tickets to view NASA SpaceX's launches. Check the launch schedule ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
Europe's only space-themed park is especially great for families who want to experience an astronaut day together. Meanwhile, older children and teenagers can sign up for a week-long astronaut camp. Exciting activities, like the chance to take a simulated walk on Mars or the moon, are included in the standard entry ticket price. This attraction is open all year round.
This dual-location observatory will help you understand how astronomers and astrophysicists conduct ground-breaking research. The South African Large Telescope, the biggest in the southern hemisphere, is at the forefront of exploration of the Southern Sky.
The observatory's role in the development of astronomy in the region stretches back into colonial times. The Sutherland telescopes are situated 1800 meters above sea level, meaning they produce dependably clear skies and awe-inspiring views of the stars. You'll need to book ahead and check current regulations for open night availability and tours.
Maunakea is a dormant volcano and the tallest mountain on earth if you count the portion located beneath sea level. Beyond its official status, the high altitude means the observatories have astonishing views of the galaxy, with minimal light pollution. There's a helpful Visitor Information Station located roughly halfway up the mountainside, offering guidance on everything from health and safety concerns to the weather.
The journey up the mountain is suitable for a self-guided tour for those who are in robust health and aren't phased by a rapid drop in oxygen at high altitudes. Visit between April and October to avoid the rainy season.