My girlfriend and I have just finished booking our summer holidays and we are really looking forward to getting away from it all. Like many people, we will be flying and to be quite honest, flying bores me. I hate waiting in the airport to get on board and then when I am in the aircraft I find the actual flying quite boring. In fact I usually sleep for most of the flight. But then I stopped and thought about this. We only learnt how to fly about 100 years ago, and commercial flight that ordinary people can afford is only about 50 years old so in this short time it has gone from the leading edge of technology to so ordinary it’s totally boring. This got me thinking about the new tourist destinations that will become available in the next 50 to 100 years and this has to be, like so much else with us Home Sapiens, upwards and outwards. So I thought I would spend some time looking at the next big thing in tourism, Space.
So far only a few, extremely rich, people have bought a ticket into space and there are very good reasons for this. The first is that until recently only very highly trained, government agency employed, astronauts had this possibility and it is that long ago that these were almost exclusivy real tough guys with “the right stuff”. Then came the scientists, and now the first tourists have been allowed to pay handsomely for the privilage of a short trip into orbit. One problem is that the only place to go to is the Space Station, built and run by a consortium of government agencies who understandably don’t want just anybody coming up there, talking selfies and saying “Ooh, I wonder wahat this big red button is for….”. The other is the actual cost of getting your butt off the ground and into space. At the moment a trip into low Earth orbit costs several tens of thousands of Dollars per kilo and this is due mainly to the way we do it, the vehicles we use. As Elon Musk, Tesla cars and SpaceX, explained, we build non-reusable rockets every time we send something up so imagine how much it would cost to go on holiday if the airline had to build a new Airbus or Boing 757 for every flight and then chuck it away afterwards! Whatever, a good diet is advisable before booking!
Put like that it seems crazy to do it that way, why not build something that can be used again and again? Oh yes, like the Space Shuttle you say? Well yes, but the Space Shuttle was really an experimental system and a very complex one at that, and what comes with comlexity? Lots of stuff that can break and go wrong. So what we need, and what the new breed of private space flight companes is trying to do, is to go about it all in new ways, “keep it simple” and make it pay for itself. This seems to be getting them there quite quickly. Despite the recent tragedy Virgin Galactic are not far off the first commercial flights and SpaceX and others will certainly not be far behind. Once the price comes down to the point where it is not just billionares but ordinary millionares who can buy a ticket, then we are getting somewhere. OK, “ordinary millionares”, what about me? Well this is the same as ordinary flight in its first years, it was only the extraordinarily rich, the extraordinarily brave, and often the extraordinarly foolhardy, who could even consider going up in a “Flying Machine”, but once they had proved that it was possible and had created a demand, then ways were found to bring the wonders and delights of flying, you know, airport ques, lost baggage etc, to a wider public. This will surely also be true of commercial space flight in the not too distant future, and once the first reusable and thus cheap(er) launch systmes are in opperation, then others will follow that increase safety and reduce the cost.
Plans are already being laid for the next step after short duration low orbit trips, hotels in orbits. These would really be not much more than glorified viewing platforms with primitive sleeping arrangements and and large supply of “Barf Bags” for those who over estimate the strength of their stomachs. Eventually these will evolve into places where it will be a bit more comfortable to spend a day or two, but it is unlikely that many people will want to spend much time up there especially as prices will be high for a long time. It will likely be one of those “must do” things and people will marvel at the views, and that’s pretty much it.
What this will do is provide a platform for scientific exploitation of space where research teams can rent space in the “hotel” which will be much cheaper than assembling a specially built space station. This will also create the basis for the next step in the tourist conquest of space, the Moon. Now here are some real possibilities. A trip to the Moon can include for expample visiting the Appolo 11 Museum, wehere you can take a selfie next to the landing stage of the Lunar Module, take a, small, Moon rock home and maybe even play a round of Moon Golf, or try some Lunar Bungee Jumping. The Moon, it turns out, has plenty of water and the hotel can be covered in Moon dirt, Regolith, to protect the paying customers from being sizzled by Solar rays, Sun block here would be a real advantage!
And after the Moon? Who knows? The obvious target, the one that draws us to it, is Mars, but that’s a completely different kettle of fish. Journey times of almost a year each way, Solar radiation frying your DNA, your kids asking “Are we there yet?” several million times, the list of problems seems almost endless, so unless we suddenly find a really cool way of getting there and back quickly, then it will be a long time before we tourists and holiday- makers venture beyind the Moon and if they can send you to Hong Kong and your baggage to New York, then God only knows where your suitcase will end up when you finally land on Mars!
So for now it’s all still in the future but maybe, one day soon we will be able to take a trip to the Tranquility Base Bar, pull up a deck chair and just sit back and literally watch the world go by: