11 July 1998
Media - General (Strange)
French Space Minister criticises human space flight
Good news for space tourism?
by Patrick Collins
Under the dramatic headline "Allegre Blasts Station, ESA Management" Space News (June 22-28) reported on some blunt comments by the French Space Minister, Claude Allegre. While complaining about a long list of things (including ESA, the European Commission, Britain, etc) he explained why the French government would not support crewed space activities:

"...astronaut programs are not worth the money... sending men into space accomplishes nothing. It is expensive, it no longer makes people dream and it has no scientific value."

Giving a nice example of how confused people get over this issue, Allegre then proceeded to call for European governments "...to make space a strategic priority."

The problem with this logic is that, apart from the prospect of passenger travel, there's precious little profit potential in space activities. Satellite manufacturing and launch each generate just a few $billions turnover per year - and as an ex-ESA official pointed out recently, economically Ariane has benefited other countries more than Europe (see below).

That leaves taxpayer-funded space activities - which aren't of great interest to most taxpayers, as Allegre acknowledges.

If European industry were to ignore the technologies required for human travel and accommodation in space, they'd be ignoring the field that's going to comprise the major part of commercial space activities over the next few decades! Without carrying passengers, space launch services are condemned to remain a few $billion per year - which is literally trivial in a world of $trillion economies.

Space tourism cuts this knot: it has the potential to grow to very large scale, and it does make people dream - as market research has shown.

Allegre would probably scoff. But that's France's loss - to be condemned to unprofitable government-funded space activities. But while Allegre probably feels that he's being "business-minded" in refusing to support expensive, government-funded crewed space activities, at the same time he's ignoring where the commercial space industry is actually going to go. That's presumably because he's of the widespread mindset that believes that only special people can go to space, and that it has to cost tens of $billions to do so - neither of which is true.

How long will this stance last? When the X Prize is won (by 2001?) and passengers are flying regularly to space and back (2003?), will the French government still deny the feasibility and potential importance of space tourism? Probably! But time will tell.

NB Not having a government astronaut program that "proves" that human space flight costs an enormous amount of money, and thereby discouraging the private sector, may enable European companies to get involved, for example by competing for the "X Prize", with fewer political difficulties.
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Patrick Collins 11 July 1998
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