Once upon a time, the early man’s idea of flying into the unknown realm, was considered as a flight of fantasy. In stark contrast to this, today, you and I can think of undertaking a leisure trip to explore the ever-expanding and relatively unknown realms of the universe. Man has definitely surged forward, and he extends this need for exploration even into space, something that once was considered unfathomable. Space tourism was earlier conceived to be mere science fiction, but now it has gained momentum and a newfound importance. Let’s take a look at the hype and find out all about space tourism, besides, it does us no harm in exploring, right?
An Overview of Space Tourism
The very concept of “space” is multifaceted, and offers a plethora of possibilities. What then is the idea behind space tourism? The very word ‘tourism’ itself is self-explanatory; tourism as most of us understand is not just traveling to a particular destination but is the commercialization of services provided to a traveler. Space tourism is a relatively new concept, however, it has been in consideration for a couple of decades now.
Travel undertaken in space for either business, leisure or recreational purposes is known as space tourism. Space tourism, as a term, is largely applied to the concept of private astronauts or customers paying for their travel beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Man today, is constantly seeking out ways to explore the relatively unknown, and to do this, he doesn’t stop at just destinations around the world, he seeks to attain a secret mission, an achievement for him here would be to reach the skies by all means. The ancient saying rings close in my ear and possibly in yours too – ‘Sky is the limit, aim high‘. The very idea of space travel is vast, like the very sky we breathe under, we can only see a horizon at the far end but when we reach the supposed end, there is always more awaiting us. Space, for that matter, has infinite possibilities embedded within, which makes it an ultimate mecca for commoners like you and me who crave for uniqueness in all that we do. Besides, space is quite a huge platform for all those with an adventurous spirit, and who are always searching for ways to try the unfathomable.
Past Achievements of Space Tourism
It is said that, ever since the early man gazed up into the sky, he was mesmerized by the vastness above him. As legends may have it, the idea for reaching far beyond what was possible, might have popped into his mind way back then. Records show that, way before man explored space and set foot on moon, many individuals have explored their creative abysses and written about travel in space. Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky, considered as the father of Russian space industry, described the bountiful aspects of space much before man had anything to do with space, however, his theory of space was rejected for the sole purpose that no one believed in the concept of space travel. However, space travel gained a momentum with the launch of the first liquid-fueled rocket. After that, there has been no looking back for man, especially in the concept of venturing out in space. Some of the most memorable moments for space tourism, are the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984; among the lucky few who had an opportunity to venture into space were Toyohiro Akiyama in 1990 and Helen Sharman in 1991. Dennis Tito was the first paying customer who visited the International Space Station in 2001. Mark Shuttleworth followed suit in 2002.
The Present Scenario
The Russian Space Agency has been the sole agency providing low-cost astronaut and space transport facilities. Statistics of the Space Museum in Washington DC and Spaceport USA in Florida point towards the increased number of keen visitors, and potential consumers in space travel. However, present day transportation cost per seat is far too high to permit the sustainable development of space travel. Many have dared to venture into the market in the past, but very few have successfully materialized their plans for providing a platform for space travel. Among the handful of companies promoting space travel and tourism, Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace are by far the most successful, and most publicized agencies building spacecrafts for sub-orbital flights. The government of USA has recognized eight such space agencies promoting space tourism. However, the scenario of today remains unscathed, with people shelling a whopping $200,000 and above per seat for a few hours in space.
Glimpse into the Future
According to the market researchers, the space tourism industry is set to take off and scale new heights, and work towards achieving this goal is now gaining momentum. Space Adventures (Virginia) has arranged eight private trips to the space station, and has also booked one passenger for an excursion around the far side of the moon. It also has a passenger seat to fill for the first private lunar mission which could materialize anytime next year. XCOR expects to begin test flying the Lynx Mark 1 and 2 by 2013! SpaceShipTwo along with WhiteKnightTwo have successfully been used as sub-orbital launch vehicles, it will be followed by SpaceShipThree which will launch some time soon. Spaceport America in New Mexico, though still in the development phase, claims to provide an unusual experience to those interested in space travel, they plan to have, at their port an exclusive cabin for individuals to experience weightlessness without venturing into space. A passenger oriented space transportation system, that will ensure passenger safety, be reliable and reusable will boost space travel. Besides, the level of comfort should be equivalent to commercial airliners and the introduction of sub-orbital flights will bring down the cost of space travel. Imagine a hotel room in mid space with your room overlooking stars and planets; in a seemingly near future, this could be a possibility. Space Hotels is a booming concept and many hoteliers are showing interest in expanding their business to space. In keeping with the future demands, the rates per seat are sure to see a steady decline making it affordable for just about anyone to undertake a journey into the abysses of space. Stephen Attenborough, Commercial Director, Virgin Galactic, says, “At the moment, most people would assume they’d never go to space. I think they’re going to be wrong… My view of the future is that, maybe in 30-40 years, most people who want to go to space will have the opportunity to do it; and that will be affordable.”
A Realistic Goal
Anyone who has watched Wall-E or any of the movies on space, is aware of the fact that the time for space travel has finally dawned. Like the aviation industry or any other industry with large prospects, experts believe that space travel and tourism will soon be commercialized. It is one of those industries which will definitely see an upward trend if initiated, and made available to the consumers at a relatively lesser cost. In today’s world, where consumerism is on the rise, people do not care a damn when it comes to spending on themselves, besides, if cost-effective measures are implemented, the total turnover for space programs is sure to be a huge amount. Space tourism can be considered to be an alternative lower cost space program. Space tourism spells the concept of luxury: a life full of style and of hyper consumption. Space tourism unlike exploration, involves a relatively short exposure to space, weightlessness and a wonderful new adventure; besides, it cuts down the after effects involved in a space expedition, it sums up to be a literally high, roller coaster ride.
Lesser Known Facts
Human space flight is an extremely costly affair, besides, you are never sure of your safety. Space tourism, unless cost-efficient, is too pricey, and limited to the elite class of the society. In the past, the government had funded for the astronauts’ expeditions to space, however, commercialization of space agencies has not been undertaken.Tourism includes relatively high risk associated with space flight, the difficulties of preparation and the possible discomfort to the passengers during the flight. This industry is not favored because, building a space tourism vehicle is expensive, besides, the vehicle should be one that can be reusable which rarely happens in the case of space vehicles.
Space tourism definitely adds a new dimension to space exploration, and if explored well, might facilitate other space activities. To end, I must agree with Producer Dallas Austin in his saying, “You’ll really see how insignificant our problems are, to see (the world) from a different perspective.” A word of caution though, if you are interested in booking yourself for a space tour, keep a keen eye out for dubious projects and agencies, after all, it is your hard-earned money, that you are putting to stake.
By Cheryl Mascarenhas