Space Tourism is the next big step in the never-ending space exploration by mankind. Now, there is rising industry for space travel for recreational purposes. The technological advancements seen in the past decade has increased hope and interest among corporate and public organisations in this market worth billions of dollars. As of now, space tourism is an extremely expensive proposition that only a few millionaires can afford.
Space tourism can be divided into orbital, suborbital, lunar, and inter-planetary, the last one being most popular in interest. The Boeing Company, Blue Origin, Deloitte Consulting, NanoRacks, and Maxar Technologies are a few private companies working with NASA to research on the viability of commercial human spaceflights and human habitats in sub-orbital space, lunar space, and Mars. These companies investigate the rules and policies that would be needed to make such trips work.
NASA is targeting the 2030s for manned missions to Mars, and is developing Orion, a space capsule, that will ferry humans to the moon and beyond.
Private Investment in Space Tourism
Private spaceflight companies such as SpaceX are also working on plans to build a habitable city in Mars. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says that humanity must become “a multiplanetary species” if we are to survive. The company is evaluating potential landing sites and thinking through what a long-term base on the Red Planet might look like. Exploratory missions in the past have shown that Mars is an active planet, rich in the ingredients needed for life as we know it—water, organic carbon, and an energy source, which is why travelling to Mars have become a dream to many.
The vehicle that SpaceX envisions as the workhorse for such a city is the Starship, powered by the Super Heavy booster. The pair is still in development, with SpaceX conducting early tests on a string of Starship prototypes at its site in Texas. SpaceX hopes to be able to launch the first uncrewed test missions to Mars in 2022 when Mars aligns with Earth favourably for spacecraft missions. SpaceX is also working on trimming the Mars flight to below six months long to reduce the radiation that humans would be exposed to during the journey.
Virgin Galactic, by Virgin Group, has about 700 customers who have put down their money for a ticket to space, although they are still far from a feasible plan to conduct commercial space travel.
High Costs - a Challenge
The main obstacle that companies see is the high cost of transportation for both crew and cargo. With the upcoming technologies such as AI, reusable rockets, etc we can hopefully minimise the cost of space transportation. Reports also say that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has already begun work on projects for space tourism with a starting budget of ₹5000 crore. India can play a key role in the development of low-cost space tourism based on its affordable space technologies. Currently ISRO is working on its most challenging mission - The Gaganyaan - India's first manned mission to space.
So far, there has not been many space tourists because of how expensive the trip is. In 2001, American businessperson Dennis Tito became the world's first space tourist by paying 20 million dollars for eight days with the crew on a Russian spacecraft, orbiting Earth 128 times. Until 2009, only six others also spent up to 40 million dollars each to become pioneer space tourists. Studies suggest that if space tourism reaches the ‘mass-market’ phase, the estimated cost will drop to 2,000 dollars per trip, making space tourism affordable to more travellers. However, ecotourism researcher D. B. Weaver, argues that most new destinations never reach the mass phase. So, unless the travel and ticket costs do not rapidly decrease, this may be the case for the space tourism industry as well.
As per a study by UBS,the Swiss multinational investment bank and financial services company, in the coming decade, high-speed travel via outer space will represent an annual market of at least $20 billion and compete with long-distance airline flights. And space tourism will be a $3 billion market by 2030.
Safety factors also must be considered to understand the viability of a mass space tourism industry. It is incredibly stressful, physically and mentally, to get shot into orbit on a rocket and survive on artificial resources. Considering the current technology, most people will not be able to handle the journey. For the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration has published the rules regarding commercial spaceflight, and the primary requirement is that all commercial providers clearly notify passengers (spaceflight participants) that space travel is not safe.
To conclude, there are a lot of exciting space tourism projects by public and private organisations in the pipeline. But, for most of us, it remains an ambitious dream that we could only hope our future generations can achieve.