As a child, I often imagined that at some point in my life I would get to board a rocket and go on a vacation to outer space.
Perhaps one day I’d stare back at Earth while I walk on the Moon.
Later in my life, I learned that my whimsical childhood dream could actually come true real. Yes, space tourism is a developing sector of space exploration. But how realistic is my dream, exactly? Will I ever get to be on a rocket launching to outer space?
The Development of Space Tourism
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon (Image Source: SpaceX)
In February, Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, told the public that his company would fly two tourists around the moon in 2018.
Immediately, experts and the media tried to figure out if 2018 would be the year where space tourism would truly take off. But commercial space flights are not a new thing.
Space Adventures has offered flights to the International Space Station for paying passengers since as early as 2001 as passengers would hitch rides on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.
Unfortunately, because of this reliance on Russia’s space agency, Space Adventures’ space tourism flights hit many roadblocks.
The difference between Space Adventures’ and SpaceX’s space tourism is that SpaceX builds their own rockets and plan their own missions. As a result, SpaceX’s tourism wouldn’t be as dependent on an agency like Space Adventures’ is. Other companies such as Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace are also currently working in the same field as SpaceX.
Besides the clear goal of allowing the public to explore outer space, space tourism has other benefits as well. Space tourism could inspire future generations to become interested in astrophysics, astronomy, astrobiology and other fields relating to space. The public’s interest towards this sector would also push more innovation and support for space exploration. Additionally, commercialized space sector could also mean making access to space a lot cheaper.
Why I Probably Can’t Go to Space
The interior of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon (Image Source: SpaceX)
Space tourism is expensive because of the launch cost for each trip. This could be solved by creating rockets that can be reused many times and wouldn’t end up as space junk. SpaceX and Blue Origin have made advances in this field, but it’s questionable if they’ve reached a high enough level of safety to be able to transport people. For now, space tourism remains expensive and inaccessible to a lot of us.
There’s also a lack of regulation around space tourism. The tourists don’t have adequate protection to ensure their safety and security in space. Last year, the UN aviation agency demanded regulations on space travel to be executed within five years. This is important because the rules have to be able to keep up with the rapid innovation in the commercial space travel sector.
And while a trip to outer space promises excitement, tourists must keep in mind that space travel has its health risks for many people. Exposure to radiation in space is dangerous and can cause damage to our DNA. But radiation isn’t a pressing issue for space tourists who are merely spending a few minutes in outer space.
Most will experience motion sickness as the main side effect of an environment with little to no gravity. The real danger is the failure rate of the commercial spacecraft, which now still exceeds what is allowed for commercial airlines.
Astronaut in space
It’s possible that sometime in the future, technology will allow us to safely choose the Moon as a tourist destination. But it doesn’t seem like it will happen any time soon, nor will it be affordable enough for most of us.
The development of space tourism continues to advance the space sector, but my childhood dream will have to wait. Science breakthroughs have a way of surprising us though — maybe space tourism will become a travel reality sooner than we think.