A century ago, a majority of the planet's residents never managed to make it further than a few hundred miles from their birthplaces. Now, with one billion international arrivals a year, travelers are spreading into the last unexplored corners of the globe. The demand for bigger, better, and more adventurous experiences is skyrocketing. "There's an accessibility that there never was before, and people can do things that were once unimaginable," says Shannon Stowell, president of the Adventure Travel Trade Association. "If you can think of it and Google it, there's probably someone who can take you."
Here are nine of the most extreme trips on the planet - and the outfitters that take adventurers over the edge and back again.
Visit the dark side of the moon.
Less than 50 years after Neil Armstrong became the first human to hop around on the Moon, tickets to our celestial carriage house are about to go on sale. Since 1998, Virginia-based company Space Adventures has brokered rides for the extremely wealthy on Russian Soyuz space shuttles headed to the International Space Station. Now the company has an even more outrageous plan: Shuttle two passengers to the far side of the Moon to watch the earth rise. Although the price tag is suitably stratospheric – $150 million – the second ticket just sold and the as-yet unnamed passengers should arrive in early 2017.
The experience isn't just a monetary commitment. Passengers must pass a rigorous medical exam, then go through weeks of training at Star City, Russia's cosmonaut facility, where they learn to operate a space suit, withstand up to 4 Gs of force, and press the right buttons on the spacecraft.
"Our clients are all very pleasantly surprised with how relatively simple it all is," says Space Adventures President Tom Shelley.
Like the company's previous expeditions, the lunar mission will take passengers to the International Space Station for about 10 days. Instead of returning, however, they'll continue toward the moon, watching the Earth shrink into a blue dot over four days. On the far side of the orb, the spacecraft will skim over the mountains, and passengers will watch the Earth creep above the lunar horizon.
The risks, of course, are numerous, but arguably the greatest one is reentering the atmosphere. Enter too steep and the spacecraft could burn up. Enter too shallow and they may bounce back into space, never to be seen again. The potential rewards, however, are just as spine-tingling as the risks.
"Our customers describe the change that they go through by seeing the Earth from a very different perspective," says Shelley. "It's a very changing experience, very humbling. They get a greater appreciation for all aspects of our life here on Earth and for our place in the world. It really is an experience that lives with them forever."
More Information: If Space Adventures' first lunar mission is a success, the company will arrange subsequent journeys for about $150 million per person. They currently arrange orbital and suborbital spaceflights aboard Soyuz spacecraft, including all training, starting at about $50 million, and the company's subsidiary, Zero G, offers flights in a modified Boeing 727 to experience weightlessness for $4,950.
Credit: NASA / Getty Images