Friday, March 13, 2009

Space Tourism: Looking for Both Creek and Paddle?

Given our current on-going global economic downturn, does the future of space tourism look promising?

By: Ringo Bones

The sales pitch about the beauty of seeing our planet from 250 miles up (400 kilometers) in space has been the sales pitch of space tourism ever since its pioneering founders took it upon themselves to make the first fiscal steps. Oddly enough way back in time when then US President John F. Kennedy gave his speech about sending a man to the moon before the decade – 1960’s that is – is out. After almost 50 years, are we now closer to a viable space tourism industry?

Probably were still suffering from that 20th Century euphoria of our relatively swift progress on manned flight. It took way less than 50 years from the Wright brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk to the invention of the DC-3 which made affordable commercial – make that tourism – flights possible. As our current state of space tourism still preclude the participation of the casual tourist, will it ever progress from sending a few intrepid billionaires paying 25 million or so US dollars per launch to experience weightlessness to a relatively mundane mass tourism business phenomena?

Basing on recent developments on space commercialization and or possible space tourism, it looks like the United States will have to settle for second place. Back in December 31, 2008, the Scottish National party is calling for a disused RAF airbase in Moray to become the UK’s first commercial spaceport. Together with Virgin Galactic, the RAF Lossiemouth site will probably serve as the birthplace of relatively affordable space flights for the average Joe intrepid enough (probably also financially well-healed) to experience weightlessness or who just want to see first-hand the beauty of planet Earth as seen from space. Even though all of this is too tempting to be ignored by the travel and tourism industry, will space tourism ever become a viable commercial enterprise given that our present “conventional” tourism industry is currently threatened by the global economic downturn?

Even though the global credit crunch will probably delay the establishment of a fiscally viable space tourism industry by a few years, its obvious unique selling points is just too tempting to not be exploited by the world’s established travel and tourism companies. Even though space commercialization via satellite launching services is already a viable private business enterprise for over 20 years, the revenue generated by space tourism or space travel by paying private individuals is still small in comparison to its bigger sibling. Not just to let anyone experience the novelty of weightlessness, it could also provide opportunity for amateur astronomers to see interesting celestial phenomena from the vantage point of low Earth orbit. Imagine a telescope-equipped space tourism “bus” where amateur astronomers can charter for a reasonable fee to witness a total eclipse of the Sun from Earth orbit. Not to mention the other “mundane” experiments that can only be performed in weightless conditions. All of which can be classified under “ignore at your own peril” to the world’s established travel and tourism industry.