…To Infinity and Beyond! Thoughts on Space Tourism
One of the most significant discussions in travel is the ability to travel to the unknown. More specifically, the topic of space tourism.
As a people, we have always been fascinated with being the first, with discovering new lands and places along the beaten path. Some of that I completely agree with. The human race can do so much for an underdeveloped country if we go about it—the right way. In a way that is respectful of their traditions and needs as well as the surrounding environment, showing love to what they hold dear while helping with a struggle. This is the plight of discovery in my eyes.
It’s just fun to find something new that you didn’t know existed on the surface, but at what cost? Even more so, how does this apply to space toursim? Something we have been gaining intelligence on for decades but still know so little about?
Space Shuttle Challenger
Remember the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983? The program that was destined to take the first teacher into space? In case you need a little background on the subject, I’m happy to fill you in. The Challenger was part of the space program destined to take five NASA astronauts and two payload specialists into space. What’s a payload specialist? Merely an individual that is chosen by the space program and trained to fly on a commercial or research flight. In lamens terms, an average person with lots of training.
It had been a bit cold at the shuttle’s launch; in fact, the flight was initially delayed because of the cold snap and moved to another date. None the less, they launched anyway. Seventy-three seconds into the flight, the right rocket booster failed because the O-ring seals weren’t designed to deal with the cold, causing it to disintegrate in the air. Although they were able to retrieve the crew compartment and many other fragments from the ocean floor after a lengthy recovery mission, no one survived. We know that many crew members survived the aircraft breaking apart, but since there was no escape system and the ocean surface’s impact was so violent, it was not survivable.
All of it reads as absolutely heart-wrenching. Seven families watched the fire engulf the spaceship, claiming the lives of mothers, fathers, and friends. It took years to regain any confidence in what was hailed as the space race as a nation. So many had their joy stolen from them, and as a country, we only felt a fraction of the pain. The fatal accident led to a 32-month halt in the Space Shuttle Program.
This is just one flight. Not to mention the other astronauts who have lost their lives in space. Those ground crew members who have died in launch accidents or grounds tests gone wrong. Yes, it is a new form of “flying,” and people can die in many ways, but this is still a scary occurrence to consider.
Fast forward 37 years, and Virgin Galactic is now offering the ability to “take your one small step” by booking a flight that goes up about 50 miles into what many of us think of as “the beginning of space.” Note, the Challenger only made it 3 miles before it was no more. However, we’re not leaving the atmosphere just yet; it’s dangerously close, all in the name of space tourism. Now don’t get me wrong, the price tag isn’t cheap. At a $1000 to just get started and a $250,000 ticket price, if you book right now, this isn’t an option for the average traveler, but it is one I have seen talked about rather frequently as of late.
I know that we can’t live in fear. One wants to believe that many technologies have been developed over the years and extensive safety precautions to prevent these fatalities from taking place again. After all, the year after the Challenger incident, NASA got a budget increase “for safety, reliability, and quality assurance programs.” Lest it has not changed enough, they still function with tight schedules and budget constraints.
The Columbia Shuttle
Just 17 years ago, the Columbia Shuttle caused another fatal accident. Another seven astronauts died when a piece of foam insulation ripped from the shuttle tearing a hole in its wing, a problem that had caused damage on at least six other previous shuttle flights. Did we even check? How extensive was that check? This risk was known and had been accepted as just another routine thing during post-disaster reports. I’m no astronaut, but what is going on? These poor families, time and time again, are paying the price for what reporters seem to regard as laziness. I know that we can’t believe everything we hear, but the countless documentaries, articles, and reports make it hard to see otherwise.
For the billionaires of the world, space tourism is the next big thing. It looks like an adventurous business opportunity making for a keen investment. There’s a great big expanse in the stars above us, and they are chomping at the bit to be a part of it, To be a piece of the next excellent exploration attempt. Even Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, is in on the idea. (Side note, as much as I love Amazon, the name of it kills me. The word amazon means giant strong warrior, woman. It’s like he’s saying, big strong woman, come shop on the platform I made for you. And we do, all the time; I got an Amazon package as I was writing this. Well played, Mr. Bezos, well played.)
Mr. Jeff owns Blue Origin, in which he’s working on an option to pay travelers to go to space. The vision is to “preserve the earth for our grandchildren’s grandchildren with unlimited resources and energy, through reusable launch vehicles.” Yup, you heard correct, reusable. I’m all about sustainability, but spacecraft’s take rocket fuel. It just feels weird to me.
Similarly, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has a whole lineup of space tourism rideshare and private tours around the moon, as well as a bevy of other options. All in all, It just feels like we’re doing too much. For me, it feels like this money can be used to enhance so many lives right here.
Looking in the windows at the local woman and children’s shelter during our drop off of toys and primary care needs, one can’t help but think this money would be better served in helping those who need it most. Granite, yes, these businesses have philanthropic endeavors, but so much more could be given if the focus shifted. Never mind the fact that in my eyes, it all seems quite dangerous and unnecessary. Granite the view from space is likely one of the most humbling things one can witness, but there are views in this life that are just not intended for me to see, and I’m ok with that.
I’m happy exploring with my feet firmly planted on the ground.