21st March 2017
Shane Staudle shares his thoughts on the impact of growing commercialized space travel
This past February, Elon Musk announced that SpaceX will fly two private US citizens on a tourist trip around the moon in 2018. Though Dennis Tito holds the title as the first space tourist following his Russian Soyuz spacecraft flight to the International Space Station in 2001, these unnamed individuals will become the first space tourists to travel into deep space.
This big announcement helps bring to light the reality of space tourism as a legitimate and growing industry, but also raises the question of its affordability and its global implications in the future.
In terms of affordability, the Russian Soyuz trip cost Dennis Tito about $20M, but the price has since risen with NASA expecting to pay about $81M per seat on the Soyuz spacecraft by 2018. Though the final cost of the SpaceX trip has not yet been announced, Elon Musk stated that he expects it to cost slightly more than a trip to the International Space Station.
If your dream of travelling to space still seems completely unrealistic, however, fear not! If the airline industry has taught us anything, it is this: What seems normal to people today, would have appeared unfathomable to those years ago, and what seems unfathomable today, may become commonplace in the decades to come.
Travelling by air has become second nature as a mode of transportation, especially with the rise of discount airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet, flying is cheaper than ever. However, that has not always been the case. Commercial air travel was an unfathomable concept before 1914, until Tony Janus and later the Douglas DC-3 aircraft made commercial air travel a reality. The turning point came with the deregulation of the airline industry in the US in 1978 and Europe shortly following thereafter, which made flying more affordable due to the introduction of low cost carriers. As a result of the democratization of the sky, airline prices have dropped about 50% since 1978.
This trend is great news for the future of the growing space tourism industry, since private companies have already begun establishing their positions in the industry, especially in the sub-orbital sphere. Today, individuals can purchase a seat with Virgin Galactic or XCOR Aerospace for $250,000 and $150,000 respectively with more competitors like Blue Origin looking to enter the market as well. Though the cost of deep space travel with SpaceX will take much more time than suborbital space travel to become attainable for the average citizen, the democratization of space is an important milestone for future affordability within the industry.
Another progressive step towards the future affordability of space tourism is the reusability of launch vehicles. The reusable capabilities of vehicles such as SpaceX’s Falcon 9, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, and future launch vehicle services such as the DARPA XS-1 can significantly decrease per launch costs and increase the number of launches in the years to come, which will hopefully allow more and more people to visit the final frontier.
With space tourism becoming a reality, it is important for people to start considering the implications a life changing experience may have on consumers and the global marketplace. One of the most exciting aspects of space tourism for me is the concept of the “Overview Effect.” Coined by Frank White in 1987, it refers to the cognitive shift and awareness of those experiencing the first hand reality of Earth in space: a sobering experience where national boundaries vanish, conflicts that divide people seem more trivial, and the need to protect the “fragile ball of life” becomes vital.
The establishment of commercial air travel brought people closer together physically, and growing space travel now has the opportunity to bring people closer together mentally. We must ensure that we are in a position to make the most of, as well as champion, a much needed humanitarian mind set in the years to come.
Check out quotes from astronauts experiencing the Overview Effect here
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