22 October 1998
Reports - Tourism (None)
Space Adventure Tourism panel held at Space Frontier Conference
by Patrick Collins
The Space Frontier Foundation, which has been pressing eloquently for better and more commercially-targeted efforts to develop space, recognises space tourism as one of the activities that could play a major role in generating the financial support needed to develop space. At this year's 7th Annual Conference, Tom Rogers, President of the Space Transportation Association in Washington DC (among his various hats) chaired a panel on Space Adventure Tourism during the afternoon of Saturday October 10th at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel, L.A. airport.

Tom Rogers spoke first of the need for a compelling, popular "Theme" for civil space development activities. And regardless of all political differences, nothing is as quintessentially American as the viewpoint that THE PEOPLE should be able to participate directly in whatever is going on. It is profoundly UN-American to stand around watching government do things "for us". Consequently there is no possibility of US space development going well until THE PEOPLE are going to and from space for themselves.

However, by contrast to the establishment of international satellite telecommunications in which he was deeply involved in the early 1960s, space tourism requires the creation of considerable new organizational infrastructure. Even before satellite telecommunications started, there was an extensive international telephone industry, with all the necessary infrastructure - physical, economic and regulatory - already in place. In the case of popular space travel this is not so, and so there is a great deal of preparatory work that has to be done - mostly thankless.

Buzz Aldrin, of Apollo 11, Starcraft Enterprises and ShareSpace, spoke of his long-standing efforts to generate expanded efforts for space development. In recent years these have extended to include support for the development of space travel and tourism services for the general public. Buzz focussed particularly on his efforts to get the "Starbooster" family of general-purpose boosters developed in order to reduce the launch costs of existing rockets.

More recently Buzz has been working to realise his idea for ShareSpace - an international lottery organisation that would provide prizes of space tourism and related services. If this can get under way, it could play a significant role in actualising the potential demand for space travel services so that it can help to generate the credibility and funding needed for the development of passenger launch vehicles. (The idea is well-described in the early part of Buzz's novel "Encounter with Tiber" - though there's apparently an even better one on the way!)

Eric Anderson of Space Adventures Inc described the genesis of the company as a joint venture by Omega Travel, one of the largest privately held travel companies in the USA with a turnover of $500 million, and Quark Travel, one of the leaders in arranging travel to exotic destinations such as the Antarctic. Space Adventures are offering a range of services today including flights "to the edge of space" in leading-edge jet fighter planes, zero-gravity rides in aircraft, and sub-orbital flights once they become available. They also offer a range of terrestrial space travel-related services, and are working with partners in other countries to develop an international clientele who will become the vanguard users of space tourism services in orbit and beyond as these develop progressively over the next decade or two.

Patrick Collins, Vice-President of Spacetopia Inc, spoke of the economic benefits of developing a space tourism industry. Since the end of the cold war the aerospace industry has shrunk greatly, but space tourism would use many of the same technical skills for profit - and would be far more beneficial to international society than increased arms sales, which are the main alternative activity for aerospace companies.

A significant contributor to the economic difficulties in south east Asia is over-capacity in existing industries, and their price-cutting is now threatening many competing businesses in Europe and America. There is an urgent need for NEW industries to employ the resources no longer needed in older industries. A space tourism industry will make use of the advanced countries' unique capabilities in aerospace, entertainment and service industries, and needs initial investment of only a small fraction of the $25 billion that government space agencies continue to spend every year on non-commercial space activities.

John Spencer introduced the Space Tourism Society, founded in 1996 in L.A. and described its aim to educate the general public and develop the market image of space tourism as a new and highly desirable goal for popular aspiration. This would be somewhat similar to international air travel in the 1960s, and the world of consumer service marketing has a potentially enormous role to play.

He also described the society's 1st Space Tourism Fair that was held during July on the Queen Mary in Long Beach. Corporate sponsorship was obtained from a wide range of companies, and as the idea of space tourism gets increasingly wide attention and growing credibility the Space Tourism Society hopes to make it a major summer event. John Spencer is involved in several developments in the area including the "Science Fiction Hall of Fame".

Francis Domoy, Professor in the School of Food, Hotel and Travel Management at Rochester Institute of Technology spoke of the scale of the catering and hospitality industries today. A hotel such as the MGM Grand in Las Vegas has 5000 rooms, with an average 80% occupancy generating over $1/2 billion in revenues per year and employing 8000 staff. There is an insatiable demand for such new and exciting entertainment centres.

Cruising is a $10 billion/year business, gambling is $60 billion/year, and food service is $280 billion / year. There are numerous commercial opportunities in the branding of consumer goods and services, and space tourism will certainly offer many new possibilities. Such business activities have not been able to particate in space development to date, but by giving them a toe-hold, space tourism - space travel by the general public - will allow many large and powerful companies to bring their power to bear on the problem of making space accessible.

An excellent panel that showed the widening range of efforts getting under way in different countries to bring space tourism about. The audience response also showed that lively discussion could have continued long beyond the two hours avaiable. It should give encouragement to builders of piloted reusable rockets and their pioneering investors that there will be no shortage of demand if they can just get up and running.
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Patrick Collins 22 October 1998
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