Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Earthbound Space Tourism, Anyone?

From sailing and flying to a favorable vantage point to watch a solar eclipse, to sailing out to sea to have an unimpeded view of a nautical sunset’s green flash, is “earthbound space tourism” the next big thing?

By: Ringo Bones

Observing solar eclipses in their most favorable path of totality from the vantage point of a plane flying 35,000 feet in the air and on a luxury cruise liner has been an earthbound space tourism staple for some time now. And so does sailing out into sea for an unimpeded view of the green flash of a nautical sunset, but the earthbound space tourism’s “finest hour” has yet to arrive – if only the mainstream tourism industry advertises that these forms of tourism also exist. Reports and advisories on the favorable vantage points to witness a satellite in a controlled reentry to crash into an uninhabited part of our planet is not yet a mainstream part of “earthbound space tourism” or its staple. But things are about to change.

Since the end of the Cold War, NORAD or the North American Air Defense Command whose former mission during Soviet times was to provide early warning for ballistic missiles launched from the then Soviet Union bound to the continental United States or her allies – is now used to warn NASA Space Shuttle missions and the International Space Station of meteor swarms and space junk that are about to hit these multi-million dollar space assets.

NORAD’s radar array that’s based in the Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado are sensitive enough to “see” and track a marble-sized object in low Earth orbit. Whit this capability, NORAD also has the potential to serve the earthbound space tourism biz by giving meteor shower and space junk reentering into the Earth’s atmosphere advisories – i.e. the most favorable vantage point to witness them and also advisory on the minimum safe distance to gawk at these wonderful debris showers.

Also given that NASA’s fleet of Space Shuttles is about to be retired and planned to be replaced by Apollo-style space capsule vehicles – i.e. the Orion Exploration Vehicle – that more often than not must splashdown in the middle of the Pacific in order to land safely. A heads-up from NORAD on advisory on the best “ringside seat” for earthbound space tourists to watch a space capsule splashdown ferrying returning International Space Station astronauts from the prescribed minimum safe distance of course would be nice. With coordination from NORAD and the world’s various travel agencies, earthbound space tourism could well be the global tourism industry’s next big thing.