Simply put, space used to be a dream. At least, for the regular people.
Today however, space is no longer limited to astronauts and space activities do not necessarily mean government projects. In fact, a new term has evolved from all this apparent interest — Space Tourism. It is the term that has come to be used to mean ordinary people traveling to outer space. Though many still think this idea is too futuristic, professional advances have been made to turn this tourism service into a realistic business target.
A California-based multi-millionaire became the first ever space tourist. Dennis Tito’s lifelong dream was to fly in space and his wish was fulfilled on April 28, 2001. With the help of the Russians and twenty million dollars (US$ 20,000), he became the first space tourist. Launched into space in a Russian Soyuz capsule, Dennis Tito proved that anyone could become an astronaut – provided they have drive, determination, and of course, a lot of money.
The Space Tourism industry is driven by the same ambition and curiosity that took humanity to the moon and appears to be here to stay. Even now, private companies in Europe, Russia and the United States are already competing to become leaders in the space tourism industry.
The price of a return flight to low Earth orbit varies. Japanese Rocket Society’s Space Tourism Study Program targets to bring the price down to about ten million dollars (US$ 10,000) per return flight, on a turnover of about 1 million passengers per year. People in the “space industry” think this is an ambitious target but people in aviation think the estimate is inconceivably small.
Here on earth, government provides the people a number of services including defense, legal and police services. However, most activities are still conducted privately – offered by companies or entrepreneurial individuals. Well, the people behind the space tourism industry envision the same thing. To develop a profitable business because the general public is interested in traveling to space for themselves. In a study they conducted, results say that most people want this kind of travel, think it’s a realistic objective and not least, fun! Its possibilities for profit is limitless because living in space will eventually involve every line of business – from construction to marketing, fashion, interior design, law and many more.
Much of the appeal of space tourism comes from the “newness” of the concept. It is an experience unlike any other. To ride a plane and get a window seat gives you a view of the clouds but to actually go into space, a much more breathtaking view awaits. In fact, in questionnaires, most people say that the first thing they want to do in orbit is to look at the earth. Those who have had the privilege to see the earth from outer space claim that the planet of sea and clouds is indeed a very beautiful sight. In space, your view of the earth depends on the local weather below. As you go around it every 90 minutes, it is continually changing. At a high inclination orbit, you get to see most of the Earth as it rotates below. They also say that even though the windows are not designed for viewing, the sight is still amazing – with much brighter, “closer” and clearer stars that seem to be within reach.
Aside from the spectacular view, space is literally a new world. Living in zero gravity is an experience in itself. Ordinary activities like walking, sitting and moving around, are all transformed in weightlessness. The mere fact that you are floating instead of being rooted to one spot due to gravity, allows more room for play. The nine (9) astronauts who lived on board the Skylab, the first United States Space Station, in 1973 to 1974 admitted they could not resist doing somersaults, making acrobatic movements, spins and so on. Every time they had to move some distance, seeing if they could spin and still land on their feet became some sort of challenge. Being a TV generation and watching gymnasts during the Olympics, most of us had dreams of being able to do their routines. Well, being in outer space gives you that, the feeling of an Olympic gymnast, but at low speed! As described by the guys who lived in the Skylab in “A House in Space”, even ordinary things can be fun. Water for example. In space, playing with water can be fun. To squeeze some out of a bottle results in little spheres hanging in mid-air which you can move around by just blowing them. Sports reach a whole new dimension outside earth. The term “defies gravity” is no longer limited to Michael Jordan’s spectacular moves. It can apply to ordinary people assuming they can surpass the first hurdle: getting there.
Up to present, a lot of people still think that aside from having a lot of money, being an astronaut is the only way to get to space. Sadly, there’s little chance for this because most countries only employ a few astronauts, if any. Others just simply plan to work in one of those businesses that will eventually be needed in space but there’s no guaranteed time frame for this. It can be realized in the next five years or take as long as a century before it actually happens. However, think about this: if you ask your grandparents what they think of flying in aeroplanes when they were still young, a lot of them will probably answer that it is one of their dreams. Yet within just a few years, getting a flight has become a common experience for many. In fact, travelers reach more than a billion in count every year.
Space Tourism’s time has come. After the sails and explorations of early settlers into then unknown land, flights to different destinations and cruises in countless seas, it is now time for this venture to be tried by the general public. Though the process usually involves a huge amount of money, those interested should take comfort in the thought that advances are being made in this field to make it more affordable for everybody.