Is Space Tourism the Future of Travel?
Everyone is fascinated by space, about what lies beyond this world which we call home, and nowadays the idea of actually visiting space is no longer so unrealistic. It’s no longer just the pipe dream of a young boy who says he wants to become an astronaut when he grows up. It’s very much within our grasp and space tourism is something that is no longer simply an absurd joke as a dinner table – it’s becoming a reality and within a few decades it will be a mainstream holiday option. I can almost hear all the sceptics laughing in disbelief at the last sentence. I’m sure their laughter sounds much like that of the disbelievers when they first heard of hot-air balloons or airplanes. Why on earth shouldn’t it be possible within the next few years or decades?
Why isn’t space travel considered a serious option yet?
Part of the disbelief comes from the extraordinary cost associated with space travel. For example, if you wanted to visit the international space station for around a week, that would currently cost you a mere $20-$30 million! By now everyone has heard of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic project, which is offering sub-orbital spaceflights for the cool price of $250,000. They’re still trialling the service and the launch date is regularly pushed back, but the latest estimation (pre-accident in Octber 2014) was announced to be spring 2015. While you probably have heard of Virgin Galactic and know that the price is slightly on the extortionate side, you probably didn’t know that it’s not just Virgin who are trying to launch tourists into space. A sole British billionaire with a childhood dream of jetting into space does not make a whole trend… It’s when you realise that there are actually several other companies developing space tourism programmes, then it starts to look less like a gimmick and more like a serious, major evolution in the way we travel.
At the One Young World summit that I attended in Dublin last October (a 3-day youth summit on global issues) there was not just one, but two presentations on space travel. Ever since that summit I’ve taken an increasing interest in the field of space travel and started to believe more and more that space travel will be far bigger than anyone currently expects. While governments and consultancies worldwide strategise on contingency plans for world disasters and future global issues, very few actually take space initiatives seriously. The mass opinion is that it’s too far away in the future to be a current concern or opportunity.
Commercial spaceflights are planned to begin in 2015
At OYW last year however, I saw a presentation by Michiel Mol, founding partner and Chief Executive Officer at XCOR Space Expeditions, on his vision for space travel. He announced that his company will be running 1-hour commercial spaceflights by the end of 2015 at a price of $100,000, which involves jetting up at 2,200mph to 103km above earth (beyond the official frontier of space at 100km), then spending 5-6 minutes in space before beginning a 40-minute descent back to Earth. He also made the surprising assertion that XCOR space travel could be useful for things other than simply shuttling millionaires into space. Eventually it could also be used to fly passengers from London to Sydney in under 2 hours, by powering itself a short distance before letting orbit take over, which apparently is much more environmentally friendly than traditional aircraft and in the longer-term could supposedly be an option to cut down on CO2 emissions from current airplanes.
While both the XCOR and Virgin Galactic options still look prohibitively expensive for most of the world’s population at the moment, the reality is that once an innovation or technology is cracked by several companies, after the ultra-rich have paid for the inaugural privilege of being an early adopter (an early “space tourist” in this case) and as competition between companies begins in earnest, the price will begin to decrease and I have no doubt that it will transform from “utterly unaffordable” to “ultra-luxury” within a decade or two. I’m not envisaging Ryanair style flights into space (99p tickets anyone?), but it will certainly become an option for many people who currently couldn’t dream of affording a $250,000 price tag.
Will space travel eventually transform the travel industry?
So will we really cease to book hotels on earth in favour of jetting off to a space hotel? Who knows. What I do believe is that over the very long-term it will become a serious player in the travel industry in some shape or form, and these spaceflights are the very first preliminary step in that direction. The most obvious evolution for space travel is to dramatically speed up international flights, as in the example of flying from London to Sydney in under 2 hours. Were space travel to open up the world like that, who knows what the next phase of globalisation could look like? As much as the internet has accelerated global communication and global distribution of news and digital content, it hasn’t physically made the world any smaller a place, and shipping/flying/travelling still takes a considerable amount of time. It’s a fascinating topic and I’m keenly following the latest developments of companies like XCOR.
Would you travel into space?
I’m one of those people who most definitely and absolutely does want to travel into space in the near future. I’ve even added it to my travel wishlist. To my surprise, most people I’ve spoken to actually don’t want to travel into space, quoting safety as the main reason. Personally, I have faith in the scientists and engineers behind these spacecraft, and I thrive off new experiences and adrenaline rushes, so I fall firmly into the ‘yes’ camp. Which camp do you fall into? Would you want to fly into space or not?