For many, the emergence of commercial space tourism is a tacky display of wealth and power, amidst several global crises, including climate change and a pandemic, as billionaires spend their money on space travel for fun.
And what fueled the criticism even more, is when he told Amazon founder Jeff Bezos Reporters after his first space tourism flight on Tuesday reported that Amazon customers and employees had “paid” for his flight.
But critics will not deter Bezos and other wealthy people from their financial behaviour, as space tourism is now a reality for people who can afford it — and it will have repercussions for all of Earth’s inhabitants.
In fact, all indications are that the market for such flights is already large enough to last, with Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin spaceflight company already listing two more flights scheduled for later this year, while Virgin Galactic, the billionaire’s space company, has already listed two more flights scheduled for later this year. Richard Branson, has at least 600 people who have already paid about $250,000 per future ticket on its spacecraft.
And with the huge growth of this market, there are big questions facing future space travelers… and everyone else on this planet. Here are answers to the six biggest questions:
1. What will people be able to see and experience on a space flight?
The biggest advantage of space travel is the view. Once the boundary between space and Earth is crossed, travelers can catch an amazing glimpse of our planet along with the vast unknown space. If a passenger were to board a Virgin Galactic flight, they would rise about 53 miles above sea level. Blue Origin riders will get a slightly higher elevation, about 62 miles above sea level and well past the Karman Line, the internationally recognized boundary between Earth and space. In general, the experience on both trips is very similar.
Passengers will also feel a loss of gravity for a few minutes, with Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic flights taking around 10 and 90 minutes, respectively. Other space tourism flights from SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, will have more to offer.
Billionaire Jared Isakman, who founded Shift4 Payments, is also seeking to lead SpaceX’s first civilian flight, Inspiration4, which will spend several days in Earth orbit. In the coming years, the company also planned special missions to the International Space Station, as well as a trip around the moon.
In addition to the magic of space, many wealthy people want to show the exclusivity of their space trips, as few people can afford these trips, while many rich people can travel to expensive places such as Venice or the Maldives, but the number of people who enjoy enough privileges to take a trip To very little space.
“There is no better way to show off these days than by posting a picture on Instagram from space,” Sridhar Tayor, a business professor at Carnegie Mellon University, told Recode.
2. Do commercial spaceflights have any scientific goals, or are they just a picnic?
Currently, space tourism flights from Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have reached sub-orbital space, which means that flights enter space but do not enter Earth orbit. Scientifically, this is not a new frontier. Although these current flights use new technology, sub-orbital flight with humans on board was accomplished by NASA in the early 1960s, Matthew Hirsch, a technology historian at Harvard University, told Recode.
At the moment, it is not clear that these flights will provide scientists with major new insights, but they may provide information that can be used in the future for space exploration. In fact, these trips are also marketed as potential opportunities for science experiments. For example, Virgin Galactic’s most recent flight carried plants and tested how they respond to microgravity.
These private companies primarily see opportunities in their commercial vehicles that can be widely reused, which would allow the same rockets (or in the case of Virgin Galactic, space planes) to fly into space over and over, reducing the overall cost of space tourism.
Billionaires and their own space companies also see the development of these missiles as an opportunity to prepare for flights that will work more, and go further, into space. Bezos, for example, argued that New Shepard’s suborbital flights would help prepare the company’s future missions, including the New Glenn rocket, intended for orbital space.
Besides potential scientific developments in the future, suborbital spaceflight may also create new ways to travel from one place on Earth to another. SpaceX, for example, has announced that long flights can be shortened to just 30 minutes by traveling through space.
3. Is it safe?
At the moment, it is not entirely clear how dangerous space tourism is.
One way space tourism companies try to keep travelers safe is by requiring training so that people on a short trip outside Earth are as prepared as possible.
During the flight, people can experience very high gravitational forces, which can reach 6 G, which means that people experience a pressure force of 6 times their weight for 20-30 seconds.
There is also the potential for space tourists to be exposed to radiation, although this risk depends on how long you spend in space. “It’s more dangerous, especially for orbital flight than suborbital flight,” explains Whitman Cobb. Getting on a plane exposes you to more radiation than you’d get here on Earth.
However, there does not appear to be an age limit for who can travel. Blue Origin’s most recent flight included the youngest person to ever travel into space, an 18-year-old Dutch teenager, as well as the oldest of them all: 82-year-old pilot Wally Funk.
4. How much do tickets cost?
Leaders of commercial space tourism already claim they have a market to support the industry, while Bezos on Tuesday hinted that the price will eventually come down — as eventually the nascent airline industry has soared — for now, ticket prices are in the hundreds of thousands, at least. For Virgin Galactic. This price point will keep spaceflight out of the reach of most humans, but there are enough rich people interested that space tourism seems economically viable.
“If you bring it down to $250,000, the wait times are going to be,” Taylor, of Carnegie Mellon University, told Recode. [لشراء تذكرة] very long”.
5. What is the impact of commercial spaceflight on the environment?
The emissions of a trip into space can be worse than those of a typical plane trip, because so few people go on one of these flights, so the emissions per passenger are much higher. This pollution could get much worse if space tourism becomes more popular.
Ultimately, Virgin Galactic alone aims to launch 400 flights annually.
“The carbon footprint of a spaceflight in one of these rockets is incredibly high, it’s close to 100 times higher than if you took a long-range flight,” said Eloise Marais, professor of physical geography at University College London.
The impacts of these trips on the environment will vary depending on factors such as the fuel you use, the energy required to manufacture that fuel, and where you’re going, all of which make it difficult to model their environmental impact. For example, Jeff Bezos has argued that the liquid hydrogen and oxygen fuel that Blue Origin uses are less harmful to the environment than other space competitors (technically, its flight did not release carbon dioxide), but experts say it could still have a significant amount of environmental impacts. .
A study from 2010 showed that the exhaust produced by 1,000 spaceflights could raise the temperature of the Antarctic by 1 degree Celsius.
6. Who regulates commercial space travel?
Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is generally tasked with overseeing the commercial space industry. But space regulation is still relatively meager.
One of the biggest areas of concern is licensing launches and making sure that spaceflights don’t end up hitting all the other flying vehicles humans launch into the sky, such as planes and drones.
Just in June, a SpaceX flight was halted after a helicopter flew into the launch area.