8 June 1999
News - Tourism (Good)
Classic Papers Presented at Bremen Symposium
Foundations of Space Tourism Taking Shape
by Patrick Collins
The 2nd International Symposium on Space Tourism took place in Bremen from April 21-23, organised by Professor Uwe Apel of Bremen Technical University as Chair of the Program Committee, and Hartmut Mueller of Space Tours Gmbh as Chair of the Host Committee. Among the 26 papers presented, several are destined to become recognised as 'classic' papers in the field, establishing an important new element of accepted wisdom among professionals in the field, or creating what will be seen as a milestone in the future.

Professor Uwe Apel's paper "Human Factors and Health in Space Tourism" is the most complete review to date of the health issues involved in 'ordinary people' (that is, you and me) going to space. It comes to the satisfyingly firm conclusion that "...health issues are no show-stoppers for the implementation of space tourism". With that, there's not much more to be said. Plenty of space industry people think along the lines of establishing rules to restrict who can go to space. But airlines and roller-coaster operators have the opposite approach: unless there is a very pressing reason anyone who wants to can ride. Being seriously ill either physically or mentally, or in an advanced stage of pregnancy are not allowed - but "screening" is done almost entirely by self-selection. Space travel should aim at the same process: self-selection. That is, there's plenty of research still needed to facilitate the smooth growth of this business - but there's no need for any more talk about whether ordinary people can go to space, how hard it is to go to space, the need for long training, etc.

Fabian Eilingsfeld's paper "The Cost of Capital for a Space Tourism Venture" is the first time that such a financial analysis has ever been performed - and the answer is 18.6%. Some people may feel that it doesn't matter whether a rate of return of 17% or 20% is used for evaluating space tourism projects. But it is essential for space tourism entrepreneurs to have as much credibility as possible when dealing with the financial world. This paper directly addresses one of financiers' key concerns, and uses the language that financial professionals use. It is clear and well-argued, and is likely to become the standard reference in this area - at least until 'serious money' starts to flow.

Michael Reichert's paper "The Future of Space Tourism" describes work being done within the German Ministry of Science and Technology, including financial analyses of three candidate projects of the three early stages of space tourism - the sub-orbital vehicle "Ascender", the orbital " Kankoh-maru" and the orbital "Hotel Berlin". Of course many of the assumptions in such financial models are open to debate - as is true for all project planning analyses. But the paper makes a very reasonable start - and it is the only such work on space tourism being funded by government anywhere in the world. For which a place in history, obviously! The sheer slowness of government space agencies to change their cold-war thinking of "doing their own thing" to trying to do something economically worthwhile will become a case study among future historians - and this work will be cited as one of the first real cracks in the ice, by one of an incredibly small number of people (out of about 1/2 million government-funded space industry people) actually starting to head in the right direction.

Patrick Collins' paper "Space Activities, Space Tourism and Economic Growth" is the most complete statement yet of the economic potential of space tourism, and it includes a tableau of space tourism in 2030, with 5m passengers/year visiting more than 100 hotels in Earth orbit. It is particularly notable that the main assumptions underlying this scenario are now widely accepted and endorsed in NASA reports and an AIAA report among others. This scenario contrasts sharply with ones published by government space agencies, which typically envisage a range of orbiting research facilities, and a small base on Mars by 2030. But they would require more funding (NB $750 billion at current space budget levels!), all of it from the taxpayer, and would employ no more people than they do today. In making this comparison the paper draws attention to the enormous economic potential being wasted today. This waste is particularly inexcusable (and potentially tragic) due to the powerful deflationary pressures in the world economy caused by serious over-capacity in many older industries, and a lack of new ones - with record unemployment levels in many countries (Germany, France, Japan, Russia and many south-east Asian countries). As such, the paper argues that promoting space tourism should be an important objective of economic policy.

There were also a bunch of other very notable contributions - the first ever survey of airlines' intentions towards space tourism, several focused legal papers, discussion of environmental considerations, innovative approaches to space power and habitation, reviews of work at several companies and organisations, larger-scale political issues, and others.

History in the Making
In relation to all of these papers, it's important to remember that we're at the very end of the 20th century - and that space tourism is going to become the largest activity in space - and indeed is going to fund humans' expansion into space. So its origins will be of the greatest interest to historians in the future, who will be delighted at the irony that while governments were spending fully $25 billion/year on a range of unprofitable space activities, a small group of hard-working visionaries with almost no funding at all were laying out the foundations of what was to become of far greater economic importance than everything that government space agencies were using those colossal amounts of taxpayers' money for.

So it is no exaggeration to say that the papers at ISST2 were of far greater significance than the majority of the work presented at "official" space conferences, which mostly describe in detail how governments are using our money - with little benefit to economic growth.

So watch out, researchers - the plums are being picked! If you want a place in history, you better join in soon!
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Patrick Collins 8 June 1999
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