George Mallory was a famous mountaineer who tried to climb Mt Everest and died in the process. When he was asked why he wanted to climb that formidable mountain, he famously replied, “Because it is there.” That sums up the reason for why people risk their lives in attempting to climb a piece of rock.
The same sentiment applies to why ordinary people want to go to space. Now they may have a chance. Suddenly a new industry is springing up to take us up in space. Yes, there is considerable amount of money involved, there is even some risk. There is, of course, some bragging rights that would come by going to space, but for most people it is the fulfillment of their life long dream to see for themselves what it would feel like orbiting the Earth, what would they see and experience.
Besides the question of why would anyone want to go to space, there are several other objections raised by people who are opposed to space tourism. I had mentioned and argued against with two in a previous Blog Post (“A Far-out Scenario”, September 1, 202). One was how can we support anything that unsavory characters such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are promoting. The other, why can’t they spend this money on climate change.
A new objection I have heard is that space tourism will cause a “disastrous” effect on the environment because of the pollution caused by rockets. My issue with this argument is two-fold: There are a lot of other activities that cause pollution and can be curtailed without snuffing out a nascent industry. I look around and see gasoline leaf blowers causing pollution and noise racket. I bet making them illegal will save far more on pollution than making space tourism illegal. My second argument against this objection is that technology will undoubtedly improve to reduce any harmful environmental effect of space tourism. Considering the fact that it will be quite a few years before space tourism really takes off (pun intended), we have some time.
At the moment there are two choices for future space tourists: Take a rocket up to the elevation that defines the beginning of space (50 miles up), experience weightlessness, admire scenery and come down. I was watching one such venture as it unfolded and was dismayed at how short the entire flight was. In ten minutes, these “astronauts” were up and down. Would that constitute space travel? Not in my opinion. Also, they charge an arm and a leg, and there is a long line of people waiting to go up.
Another choice is being offered by a couple of new ventures that have recently been announced. There is one called “World View” and the other, “Space Perspective.” Both will take you to 100,000’ by a balloon and charge $50,000. Space Perspective claims that 500 seats are booked and the first opening is in 2025. The benefit of their offering is that you stay afloat for many hours, not minutes. The downside, there is no weightlessness and the altitude is much less, only about 20 miles, much less than 50 miles offered by the rocket ships. You will be in stratosphere, not “space”, as currently defined.
The next step in space tourism will be orbiting earth. I am sure a space capsule, a more sophisticated version of the ones used by Yuri Gagarin or John Glen, will be created to get the wealthy tourists achieve that objective. However, in longer run, just one or few orbits in a cramped capsule will not cut it. The tourists will demand a longer time in space in a spacious vehicle. Like the International Space Station.
Currently a few civilians have bought their way to the Space Station, but there is no possibility of a mass of space tourists invading it. So, a new orbiting Space Platform will be required. One likely scenario is that such a platform will rotate (like the one in 2001: A Space Odyssey”) so that artificial gravity is created. Ride the hub of this tourist platform to experience zero g, but come back to the rim to sip a cocktail while seeing the world go by. To reduce price, this orbiting Space Platform will probably be shared with organizations that provide other services in space besides tourism. Much like the cargo space in current airplanes.
After that will come tourist trips to the moon, and eventually, to Mars. I have no clue when or in what form that will take. The only thing I feel confident is that eventually it will happen.
May be my granddaughter, or her grandchildren, will get to really experience space. This is all too late for me. The best I can hope for is the balloon type of a ride. I have flown Concorde and remember the experience of being at 50,000’. Going twice as high will be something. However, I am not sure that I will do it.
What I am sure is that people like me and others will go to space…just because “it is there.”