Lonely Planet Writer

Tips for first-time space visitors

Night sky from Pinnacles, Australia

We at Lonely Planet are huge supporters of first-time travel.

All veterans of the road - even the most hardened and world-weary - were once first-time travellers. We all needed a bit of hand-holding at some point.

And now the need grows even more acute. Space travel is now a reality. Russia recently announced that it is going to reopen its space-tourism program in 2013. Meanwhile, NASA has unveiled new concepts for jets that orbit the Earth. And it turns out that you can even book space tickets on Kayak.com.

With that in mind, we thought it's high time to start putting together some destination tips for interplanetary destinations. Here are key things to keep in mind when visiting our neighbours in the solar system:


Mercury - It's our smallest terrestrial buddy and perfect for a sun-drenched holiday. Mercury is best for active visitors, as you'll need to keep moving to stay in the twilit 'sweet spot' between Mercury's vicious 500-degree days and minus-200-degree nights (and that's Celsius; scientists don't get Fahrenheit). The good news is that as Mercury's day lasts nearly two Earth months, you have more time to race around the planet.


Venus - If you're into tropical thunder, Venus is for you. Named after the Roman goddess of love, our closest neighbour has a stormy disposition. Non-stop hurricanes and a consistent surface temperature of more than 300 degrees make Venus one for the brave, although its clouds are more relaxed and may even harbour life. Definitely take a sick day while on Venus - it will last 243 Earth days, the longest of any planet.


Mars - The Red Planet is pretty accommodating to Earthlings, with mild temperatures and even potable water (frozen into ice caps, of course). Bring a heavy sweater and some oxygen. Mars is especially good for decathletes, with a gravitational pull only 40% of Earth's at its surface. Enjoy the high jump.


Jupiter - Now we're in the big leagues. Leader of the gaseous Jovian planets, Jupiter offers some gorgeous views and predictably unpredictable weather. If you want to avoid sinking into its surface, stick with a visit to one of its scores of moons (you'll also get a good look at Jupiter's Great Red Spot, a permanent storm the size of three Earths).


Saturn - The cynical might dismiss Saturn as a tourist trap, but as Saturnians say, 'When you're tired of rings, you're tired of life.' Those into EXTREME adventures will love piloting a craft through the rings, which are actually made up of relatively small rocky satellites orbiting this gas giant.


Uranus - Stop it with the smutty jokes; Uranus has gravitas (quite literally). It's definitely one for the nonconformists: it spins on its side, with vertical rings and a North Pole that constantly faces the distant Sun. Uranus might be the perfect honeymoon destination, as its tremendous atmospheric pressure may have crushed carbon on the surface into an endless array of sparkling diamonds. Don't forget to pack a windbreaker, as surface temperatures rarely exceed minus-200 degrees.


Neptune - Those who yearn for far-flung adventures will love Neptune. It's the only planet that cannot be seen from Earth by the naked eye. Visiting it gives one a true insight to the past: it's so far from the Sun that solar light takes four hours to arrive (which means that if the Sun blew up, Neptunians would be blissfully unaware for a while). Pack a snorkel: there may be a giant ocean under Neptune's blue clouds. Or maybe just a human-eating space monster. Who knows - that's adventure!


Pluto - Sorry, folks, but Pluto is officially no longer a planet. Not only is it too small, eccentric in orbit, and...well...just plain weird to belong to the planetary family, but it's also smaller than several non-planet bedfellows (such as the insensitively termed 'dwarf planet' Eris). Combine that with incredibly bureaucratic customs regulations and, well, it's just not worth the trip. What can we say - we gotta tell it like it is.

(OK, you at least deserve a pretty picture. Here you go.)

Pluto, Charon and two moons

What are your extraterrestrial travel tips?