“What beauty. I saw clouds and their light shadows on the distant dear earth…. The water looked like darkish, slightly gleaming spots…. When I watched the horizon, I saw the abrupt, contrasting transition from the earth’s light-colored surface to the absolutely black sky. I enjoyed the rich color spectrum of the earth. It is surrounded by a light blue aureole that gradually darkens, becoming turquoise, dark blue, violet, and finally coal black.” (Yuri Gagarin, 1961)
On 12 April 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first man into space. Almost fifty years later space has become the new ultimate tourism destination. Back in 2001 the first official space tourist, billionaire Dennis Tito, went one week to the International Space Station (ISS) after he paid 20 million dollars to the Russian Space Agency. Nowadays entrepreneur Richard Branson is likely to start commercial flights into space as from 2011 with his company Virgin Galactic for the lucky few who can afford 200,000 dollar per ticket (Virgin Galactic, 2010). According to Cater (2009) a growing audience of academic literature recognizes that the phenomenon of space tourism is no longer ‘out of this world’ and is worthy of future study. In her blog entry Van Gemert (2009) however states that she is skeptic about the concept of space tourism for the ‘ordinary’ space tourist due to the high price level. Furthermore she questions the feasibility of the concept due to a lag of technology level in relation to the possible market opportunities. The short history of the space tourism industry is beset with delays and setbacks and many deadlines have not been met. In this blog entry I would like to counter her statements by using the article of Cater (2009) regarding the current developments of space tourism and focus on the benefits this development already has to our society.
If you would like to discuss space tourism it is important to know that this concept is divided into three categories (Cater, 2009): astrotourism (actual flights in space), atmospheric space tourism (e.g. weightless flights, high altitude jet flights) and terrestrial space tourism (e.g. simulations, visits of space facilities, space tourism related travel). The entry of Van Gemert (2009) only touches upon the fields of astrotourism. For this entry I will concentrate on this specific level although all levels are related to each other. Terrestrial space tourism for example is flourishing as a result of some of the motivations shared by astrotourists (Cater, 2009).
Cater (2009) puts the skepticism for space tourism in a historical perspective. If we look back at air travel we see that in the early days it was expensive and being seen as transportation for only the elite. The interest of the public led eventually to the development of commercial aviation, where everyone could afford it. The elite can be seen as a catalyst for giving the industry the kick start it needs. In contrary to Van Gemert (2009) an OECD report suggests that astrotourism turnover could rapidly grow to between 700 million and 4 billion dollars a year (Andrieu, 2004). Perhaps this could be the first return on investment the industry needs to make astrotourism more open to a wider public. I agree with Van Gemert (2009) that doubt arises when deadlines are not being met, but looking back at aviation it first needed a change in the mindset of the public before people took it seriously (Hall, 2001). Cater (2009) furthermore states that the principal point of bringing tourism into space will have the effect of creating a dual purpose for development, both tourism and research, which will rely and spin off one another. According to travel agency Wildwings (2010) commercial implications could even be revolutionary for the complete travel industry if bigger aerospace companies start investing on bigger scale. As an example they outline the possibility of a flight between London and Sydney which will only take 1.5 hours. Virgin Galactic state on their website (2010) that they believe that the advent of space-based solar power, space-based server farms, transcontinental passenger and freight travel via space and a range of other transformational applications are all achievable in a relatively short time frame. Another major development Virgin Galactic is proud of to present is the technical improvement in using sustainable resources. Current calculations suggest that emissions per passenger, per trip, will be approximately 0.8 tonnes – less than a one-way flight from London to New York (Virgin Galactic, 2010). The research and development in for example bio-fuel or are already being shared with other industries. Bernasconi & Bernasconi (2004) even mention that only by developing space we can hope to solve global problems.
I would like to conclude this article by the final statement of Cater (2009) that we should treat this futuristic mindset as the natural progression of a human practice that continually seeks new frontiers.
“When I orbited the Earth in a spaceship, I saw for the first time how beautiful our planet is. Mankind, let us preserve and increase this beauty, and not destroy it!” (Yuri Gagarin, 1961)
Andrieu, M. (2004). Space 2030: Exploring the future of space applications. Paris: OECD.
Bernasconi, M. & Bernadconi, C. (2004). Why implementing the space option is necessary for society. Acta Astronautica, 54(5), 371-384.
Cater, C. I. (2009). Steps to Space; opportunities for astrotourism. Tourism Management, December 2010, 838-845, Oxford: Pergamon Press
Gagarin, Y. (1961). http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Yuri_Gagarin (visited 20-9-2010)
Hall, P. (2001). The X-price: design a spaceship and win $10 million. The Guardian Weekend 06/01/01 19.
Van Gemert, N. (2009). A round way ticket to space please… The feasibility of space tourism for the ´ordinary tourist´. http://www.master-tourism.nl (visited 21-9-2010)
Virgin Galactic. http://www.virgingalactic.com (visited 21-9-2010)
Wildwings. http://www.wildwings.co.uk (visited 23-9-2010)