SpaceX Space Tourism
Space tourism, courtesy of SpaceX, is on the horizon. Here, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon capsule lifts off from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force station in Cape Canaveral, Florida December 8, 2010. Reuters

Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, has announced a plan to offer space travel opportunities to civilians.

SpaceX is partnering up with Bigelow Aerospace, according to a May 10 press release. The two companies will offer rides on SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, using the Falcon launch vehicle to carry passengers to Bigelow habitats orbiting the earth.

Currently, the Dragon capsule is gearing up for mission to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. This would be SpaceX's first such mission, and the pressure is on--especially since the launch date has already been delayed several times. Currently, potential launch dates include May 19 and May 22.

But if Dragon, with the help of its booster rocket Falcon 9, can complete its mission safely and smoothly, private company SpaceX will be off to a good start garnering attention in order to market its space tourism program.

Bigelow specializes in creating space habitats, which are big enough for six people. Bigelow Aerospace plans to connect two or more BA 330s in orbit to provide national space agencies, companies, and universities with unparalleled access to the microgravity environment, said the release.

Together, SpaceX and Bigelow plan to offer tourists the opportunity to travel into space and experience a unique environment that's truly out of this world.

SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft will be capable of carrying seven passengers to orbit. With the company's Falcon family of rockets, SpaceX is working to create the world's safest human spaceflight system, said the press release. The companies will kick off their marketing effort in Asia. Representatives from Bigelow and SpaceX will meet with officials in Japan shortly after the next launch of the Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft.

SpaceX is a private company that may become the next pioneer in U.S. space exploration now that NASA has shut down its shuttle program.

Although NASA will be working on the Dragon capsule mission and is still involved in space exploration, a SpaceX launch will mark the beginning of a new era. Russian, European and Japanese vessels have been responsible for International Space Station cargo missions since NASA shut down its own program last year, but now private companies are picking up the reins to once again put the United States among the top players beyond Earth's atmosphere.

SpaceX, founded in California by CEO Elon Musk, has lofty goals. I think most people would agree that a future where we are a spacefaring civilization is inspiring and exciting compared with one where we are forever confined to Earth until some eventual extinction event. That's really why I started SpaceX, said Musk during an interview on 60 Minutes.

But efore civilians can hitch a ride to the great beyond, SpaceX will have to prove its capabilities by sending the Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.

There should be no doubt about our resolve, said Musk. We will get to the space station, whether it's on this mission or on a future one.