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Space Future has been on something of a hiatus of late. With the concept of Space Tourism steadily increasing in acceptance, and the advances of commercial space, much of our purpose could be said to be achieved. But this industry is still nascent, and there's much to do. this space.
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T Rogers, January 29, 1998, "The Prospects for Space Tourism", January 29, 1998.
Also downloadable from prospects for space tourism.shtml

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The Prospects for Space Tourism
T F Rogers

Serious discussion of the possibility of space travel by "ordinary people", i.e., people other than professional astronauts, has been underway for the past four decades.

Originally it was thought that our civil space program would undertake activities that would see this possibility realized. And, indeed, we did see one of our Senators, a Congressman and an Arabian prince take a trip to space. In parallel, two private persons, one from the United Kingdom and one from Japan, traveled to/from the Russian space station MIR.

However, the government pace was slow, and in the mid-1980's a few small companies were formed in the United States that began to explore the possibility of creating viable private sector space tourism enterprises.

The tragic Shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986, in which five professional astronauts and the schoolteacher, Christa McAuliffe, were killed, saw all government and private sector space tourism ambitions out aside. And, except for the publishing of a few professional papers, activities in this space-related area remained moribund for a half-dozen years.

Then, professional and business interest in space tourism commenced in Japan, and it has continued since. A large number of papers have been written there, an initial vehicle design concept specifically focused upon space tourism operations was arrived at, and a model thereof shown at an international aerospace exhibition. [1]

Market studies made there, and subsequently in the United States and elsewhere, during the past very few years suggest that, when fully developed, space travel and tourism could become a new space-related business with annual revenues of as much as $10 billion per year. Already, 10-12 million people visit our Air and Space Museum, the Kennedy launch site, space camps, etc. -- a terrestrial space tourism business probably some $1 billion per year in size.

Nevertheless, the most general view today re the prospects of ordinary people taking trips to space continues to be essentially that recently expressed by an "Editorial Observer" in The New York Times:

"Children of my generation grew up pinioned between two technological tensions: the patriotic optimism of President Kennedy's manned-space program and fear of nuclear war... . [But] with a few stunning exceptions -- Alan Shepard's flight, John Glenn's orbit, the moon landing -- the optimism evoked by the space program was always being deferred. ...I had hoped, when I was a third grader, to be on Mars by the time I was 24...[Now, reflecting upon the results of] missions like Cassini and the Hubble Space Telescope...may [have to] be space travel enough for me." [2]

But this view is now expected to change, fundamentally, within the next very few years. For instance, here:

  • In cost-sharing cooperation with our Federal government, the Lockheed- Martin company is developing technology to test the soundness of a new surface-low Earth orbit transportation concept -- that of carrying people/cargo in a single-stage-to-orbit ( SSTO) fully reusable vehicle, operated very much like today's commercial aircraft. An experimental model of this vehicle, the X-33, is expected to be under test by the end of the decade. If successful, this could lead to the private sector acquisition and operation of vehicles much more safe and reliable than those of the Shuttle fleet, and much less costly to operate;

  • A half-dozen private space transportation vehicle development companies have been formed in the United States -- companies that expect to produce and operate smaller vehicles than the presently envisioned X-33 follow-on, but all privately financed. At least one of these companies expects, within 4-5 years, to be able to carry people to an altitude 10 times higher that that reached by the highest-flying commercial aircraft; and

  • A Space Act agreement space tourism study is being conducted cooperatively by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Space Transportation Association (STA). It has been underway for two years and has involved scores of professional and business people who have been addressing the question "What should the United States do to see a potentially large space tourism business come into being?" It is expected to be reported upon publicly early next year, and its conclusions are expected to be encouraging.

That is, a growing number of those in the space community's human space flight area are now beginning to think that, at last, the prospects for space tourism are approaching reality.

For instance, the President of the International Astronautical Federation has just noted that:

"I also see a desire for space tourism that could spur the development of space transportation systems in much the same way that modern fleets of transport aircraft were spurred by the tourist and business traveler." [3]

Inasmuch as the bulk of the people who are now involved in space tourism-related activities are from the space community, their expressed judgments must be judged with some reserve. Now, however, two things have taken place that suggest, strongly and objectively, that today's space tourism interests are on the right track:

  • Two U.S. private sector companies have just announced their intention to offer additional and novel space trips to the general public:

    1. Space Adventures, Fairfax, Virginia; and
    2. Zegrahm Expeditions Inc., Seattle, Washington.

    Trips are also being planned to reach altitudes of up to some 100 kilometers where extraordinary sightings of the Earth and the cosmos can be made. All of these trips are expected to become available in four-five years. Already 25 reservations have been made at a price of nearly $100,000 each. And tourist trips all the way to orbit are also being actively considered.

    The organizations that are developing vehicles that would make these very high altitude and in-orbit trips possible are teaming with successful travel and tourism companies whose marketing resources and experience will be of great value to the space vehicle providers-operators.

  • The views in the "media" world re space tourism are finally changing. For instance in a story, noted on its cover, The Economist magazine recently generally deplored the history of human space flight: "The upshot of all this vision and money has been to launch space technology on what was probably the wrong path...for what was undoubtedly the wrong reason -- putting people in orbit with a view to transporting them to other worlds. A more measured approach, with commercial goals foremost, would have concentrated from the beginning on cheapening the process of getting into orbit."

    But the story concludes with the upbeat observation that: "Ironically, it safety can be significantly improved, the main commercial market for manned space-flight may be...tourism. ...A surprising number of people might be willing to pay [a large sum] in order to take the ultimate in holiday snaps[hots]. It...would be real -- and it would be a start." (Underlining added.)

    The Economist is a magazine of wide international circulation and considerable economic and business repute. For it to make such an observation suggests that "space tourism" business credibility is gradually beginning to be widely established.

It is always difficult to estimate how soon new technology will be introduced to and widely accepted by the general public. But, if there are no more fatal Shuttle accidents, if the economy remains reasonably strong, and if even one or two of the vehicle development and surface tourism business efforts now underway bear fruit, the first decade of the next century could see general public space travel and tourism finally begin to become a reality.

  1. T F Rogers, 1995, " Space Tourism: The Perspective from Japan and Some Implications for the United States", The Journal of Practical Applications in Space, Winter 1995, Vol VI, Issue No. 2 pages 109-149.
  2. Verlyn Klinkenborg; October 16, 1997; page A34 -- the editorial page.
  3. "Space, 40 Years After Sputnik -- The space cadets grow up", October 4-10 1997 pages 85-87.
T Rogers, January 29, 1998, "The Prospects for Space Tourism", January 29, 1998.
Also downloadable from prospects for space tourism.shtml

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