02 February 1997
Media - Other (None)
Japanese tourists to blast off for the final frontier
Anything from low-orbit moon-watching to weightless karaoke will be on offer to anyone for 10,000
Space, the final tourist destination. The Japanese Rocket Society ( JRS) has embarked on a 13-year mission to boldly go where no group tour has gone before.

Earth watching, micro-gravity amusements and space walks are among the attractions the JRS believes could make space tourism a 6 billion industry early in the next century.

The JRS, a research group, aims to do for space travel what Japanese manufacturers did for the television set: make it cheaper, more reliable and available to everyone.

"Japan is free of the cold war mentality of the space race, where the industry's only customer was the government," Patrick Collins, of the JRS, said. "Here, there is a more open-minded attitude. The first Japanese man in space was not a trained astronaut, but a journalist. There is a real feeling that ordinary people can go too."

Since making space tourism its priority in 1993, the JRS has drawn up plans for a reusable launch vehicle, dubbed the Kanko Maru (Sightseeing Ship), to offer low-orbit trips for about 10,000 to anyone healthy enough to ride on a roller-coaster.

The blueprints for the Kanko Maru, designed in conjunction with Kawasaki Heavy Industries, envisage a bullet-shaped vehicle, 66ft long, 54ft in diameter and weighing 550 tons. Carrying 50 passengers, it would take off and land at conventional airports.

At low orbits 124 miles from the Earth, tour options might include "Polarscape", "Tropical jungle" or "Big City Lights", while further out at 620 miles, the emphasis would be on star-gazing or moon-watching. During the flights, which would initially last just a few hours, passengers could use a micro-gravity amusement space to eat, drink or sing karaoke while enjoying weightlesness.

At a later stage, tourists would be able top spend one or two nights at a space hotel.

Shimizu Corporation, one of the world's largest construction companies, has drawn up plans for a rotating orbital resort to accommodate 64 people in gravity-simulating capsule rooms with toilets and showers. The company envisions a space-wedding service, low-gravity sports and moon excursions.

In the belief that space should be privatised as well as commercialised, the JRS seeks funding for the Kanko Maru project from international corporations rather than governments.

"The future choice for the space industry is very simple: tourism or taxes," Mr Collins said. The staging of the First International Conference on Space Tourism in Bremen, Germany, next month suggests this view has begun to gain acceptance outside Japan.

Market research conducted by the JRS in 1993 indicated a huge domestic demand for space tourism. Eighty per cent of 3,000 respondents wanted to try space travel and more than 40 per cent said they would pay up to three months salary for the privilege. The JRS estimates there is a global market of 1 million flights a year, generating 7.5 billion.

Dr Yonemoto, manager of launch systems' development at Kawasaki Heavy Industries and a member of the JRS, said Japan is not far behind the United States and Russia in developing technology for a manned shuttle system, and that this could make the Kanko Maru a reality soon.

"We first have to secure financing, but the target launch date is the fiftieth birthday of the JRS in 2006, and by 2010, we hope to realise space tourism."
Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian (UK)

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02 February 1997
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