Space tourism – from lofty dreams to commercial reality
By Dick Pelletier
Space tourism has come a long way in a
short time. The idea was just a dream in the 1990s, but
recently, four tourists have shelled out $20 million apiece for
an eight-day trip to the International Space Station.
Though only the rich can afford space
travel today, experts predict prices will soon drop with new
systems under development. By 2008, Virgin Galactic’s returnable
Space-Ship-Two hopes to provide orbital round-trips for
$200,000, and one-day, take vacationers to the moon.
By 2018, the Space Elevator, a
revolutionary system based on a nanotech-ribbon extending 62,000
miles from Earth to space could transport passengers into the
wild blue yonder for as low as $20,000 initially, then could
drop to $2,000 when multiple elevators become available.
As more people become space travelers,
they will need a place to stay. Budget Suites of America owner
Robert Bigelow plans to send a human-rated habitat module dubbed
Sundancer, to an altitude of 250 nautical miles at an orbital
inclination of 40 degrees. Once Sundancer is in position and
verified safe, Bigelow will add more components creating a
full-scale lodging complex by 2012.
Satellite Industry Association
President Richard Dalbello says, "Once hotel companies start to
build and operate orbital accommodations, they will be endlessly
improving them and competing to build more and more exotic
facilities”. We will see hotels that provide normal gravity for
rooms, bars, and restaurants; and gravity-free areas for
recreation and sports activities.
Space projects are already becoming
lucrative. According to the Space Foundation, global space
activities generated $180 billion in revenues last year, mostly
from private satellite launches.
Futon Corp., an aerospace consulting
firm, recently found that human suborbital space tourism could
become a $1 billion industry by 2020. The firm said that by
then, about 15,000 people a year, mostly vacationers would take
trips into space staying at hotels and visiting attractions such
as theme parks and the International Space Station.
At the September 2006 Space conference
in San Jose California, entrepreneurs and scientists floated a
host of ideas for other space businesses including shuttle
services, moon colonization outfits, and asteroid mining.
Space Foundation CEO Elliot Pulham
talked of mining a giant asteroid expected to pass close by in
2019. Scientists believe this space rock known as A-3554 is full
of valuable metals like nickel and platinum and could generate
$20 trillion in revenues. Enthusiasts predict asteroid
mining will become the largest and most profitable industry in
space by mid-century.
Once travel to orbit becomes cheap,
more people will visit space. Some for vacations, others to
visit relatives in space colonies; and, drawn by astronomical
salaries, a few diehards will choose to work in space. Jobs
include manufacturing, construction, mining, engineering, and
Will this ‘magical future’ become
reality? When yours truly was in high school in the 1940s, I
wished that one day I could fly in an airplane, but wondered if
it would ever really happen. Yet within one generation, plane
trips became routine; and today, more than one billion people
fly every year.
Where might space development lead
civilization? Positive-thinkers believe that by as early as the
next century, more humans could live in space than on Earth.
This article appeared in various print publications and
on-line blogs. Comments always welcome.