15 April 1998
News - Other (None)
NASA/STA General Public Space Travel and Tourism Report a "Landmark"
NASA admits that space tourism is both feasible and desirable
by Patrick Collins
The final report of a study of General Public Space Travel and Tourism performed cooperatively by NASA and the Space Transportation Association (STA) under a Space Act Agreement dated 12th September, 1995 was released at a press conference on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C. on March 25.

The press conference was attended by over 100 people, including congressmen, representatives of travel and tourism trade journals, and ex-astronauts, and was followed by the announcement of the creation of a new Space Travel and Tourism Division* within STA.

This report is a landmark.

It marks the first time since its founding almost 40 years ago that NASA has ever published a report on the possibility of the general public visiting space.

And it is unreservedly positive about the prospect.

It points out that space tourism is not only technically possible, but it is going to start very shortly in the form of sub-orbital flights similar to Alan Shephard's first flight; thereafter it is likely to grow into a much larger business than the entire launch business is today; and it will have very beneficial economic effects, as well as reducing the cost of government space activities.

In reaching these conclusions the report vindicates everything that Space Future and those who have worked for this objective over the past decade have been saying: the most important objective for space development activities is simply to make space accessible to the general public - a very large number of whom would pay to visit space for themselves, and who by doing so will generate self-sustaining economic growth in space. And this can be achieved by encouraging efforts to develop passenger launch systems with low operating costs at high flight rates.

We don't attempt to paraphrase the Report here: readers are strongly
urged to read the executive summary for themselves - particularly Space Future's annotated version. (The 2nd volume is due to be published shortly.)

Prepared by a committee of experts from a wide range of businesses - travel and tourism, hospitality, media, insurance, academia, finance and law as well as aerospace - the report doesn't contain technical proposals about which systems are desirable, but makes proposals for institutional actions that can be taken to stimulate the private sector to develop this (long overdue) field of commercial space activity.

The Space Transportation Association was founded on the grounds that air transportation, rail transportation, road and sea transportation all have trade associations, and space transportation should too. Space transportation has been stuck for years at an annual turnover of just $3-4 billion/year. And the new generation of low-cost launch vehicles are actually going to reduce this unless some large new markets can be found in addition to satellite launch. In the absence of any better ideas, it has been proposed (and market research supports the idea) that passenger travel could become the main activity of space transportation, just as it is airlines' main business.

Consequently STA has been pressing for a long time to get NASA to study this subject seriously. Until 1995 NASA's only efforts were limited to internal discussions about the possibility of "non-astronautic space travel" (sic) - which concluded that it was not in NASA's interest. (The Challenger disaster of course made NASA very shy of carrying any more members of the public on the space shuttle.) Then there was "...there's no proof that there's a real market for space tourism..." Finally, resistance within NASA to the report being released actually led to the cancellation of the original press conference planned for January 21! And some are still trying to put on the spin that it's "...not really a NASA report". But that's easy to nail: NP-1998-03-11-MSFC is an official NASA report, lodged in its archive, and the conclusions are there for all to see.

Finally "the mountain has moved": the largest civilian government space organization in the world has agreed, in writing, that there is no reason why the general public should not go to space: space travel is not inherently stressful or dangerous; the necessary technology is available; and with appropriately focused R&D space travel can become as safe as air travel.

Until now, the biggest obstacle to realising space tourism has been that for most people - members of the public, the media and the business world - NASA is seen as the ultimate authority about all things concerning space. And since NASA ignored the subject it was assumed to be impossible. The cold-war pattern in which government monopoly organizations carry out "space missions" ostensibly for the benefit of the taxpayer has paralysed most peoples' imaginations for decades, so that even most science fiction writers are unable to imagine a different pattern.

Consequently this report may come to be seen as a turning-point in changing the paradigm of what space activities are and should be. What was intuitively obvious for a long time is now in print, and on the way to being accepted: most people would prefer to pay to visit space for themselves than pay taxes to watch government employees do so - and economically this is highly desirable.

Once this objective is accepted as legitimate and desirable, then "the cat is out of the bag". This is because the governments of the world spend some $25 billion /year on civilian space activities (count it: NASA $14 bn, Europe $5-6 bn, Japan $2 bn, Russia and the rest of the world $3-4 bn) almost none of that spending has any relevance to making space accessible to the public who pay for it! Yet just a fraction of one year's space funding, if used appropriately, would be plenty to establish a profitable space tourism industry that will then not only grow spontaneously to dwarf existing space activities, without using any further taxpayers' money (indeed while generating taxes), but will also sharply reduce the cost of government space activities.

Being jointly prepared by NASA it is not surprising that the report does not criticise government space agencies as such. However, it should be remembered that they have no other ideas for commercial space activities that might grow to anything like this scale. Supplying solar energy to Earth from space is the only other proposal that has the potential to grow to a similar scale, yet it receives as little support as tourism! Yet together these two businesses could grow to reach a turnover of $1 trillion by 2050. As someone has said "At a time when there is global oversupply in most major industries and a shortage of new ones, this is such an obvious "win-win" proposition that it's far too much to expect governments to support it."

In any case, now that the cat is out of the bag, mice should watch out.


Space Future also takes pride in the fact that the only Internet web-site referenced in the NASA/STA report, other than STA's site, is Space Future. Though opened only in July 1997, Space Future has already established itself as THE site for people to learn about the work that has been and is being done to bring space tourism (and power from space) to reality.

We should also point out that while the report refers to Space Future as "the Japanese space tourism site", this is a mistake. Space Future is entirely international and non-discriminatory (except that we publish in English). The reason why a substantial amount of material included in the Space Future archive (http://www.spacefuture.com/cgi/directory.cgi) concerns research being performed under the auspices of the Japanese Rocket Society ( JRS) is simply that in recent years this work has represented a large part of the more interesting work published on space tourism. Note that the work of the JRS also receives multiple references in the NASA/STA Report.

In order for the JRS work on space tourism to represent a smaller part of the Space Future archive, researchers simply need to publish more good stuff on other projects - and send us electronic copies! There's plenty to be done - and a growing number of professional forums at which it can be presented. So we look forward to a flood of publications reporting on rapid progress in bringing space tourism to reality.
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Patrick Collins 15 April 1998
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