by Michael Lindemann
According to an October 23, 1997 Reuters newsire story, a new report issued by the World Tourism Organization declared: "Tourists may be holidaying in space rather than beach resorts by the year 2020."
The report said that "the advent of near space tourism" is one of the key trends that will shape the tourist industry in the 21st century.
This prediction by a leading tourism organization is, if anything, conservative. Several private companies have announced plans to start offering civilian spaceflights by the end of the decade. The market for short hops into space is expected to be huge, even with sky-high ticket prices.
At first, space tourists will spend well under an hour in flight and only a few minutes in sub-orbital weightlessness, reaching altitudes of about 70 miles above the earth in rocket-planes fitted for six or eight passengers plus a small crew. Predicted ticket prices for such a flight range from a low of $5,000 to a high of $98,000 or more.
Before long, though, the space tourist may have the option of staying a day or a week in orbit, in relative comfort, aboard a commercial space hotel.
NASA paints a glowing picture of the orbital getaway of the future. In an article called "BED AND BREAKFAST 100 MILES UP!" NASA writer John C. Mankins describes a "second honeymoon trip to 'Ursa Major Prime', one of several thriving bed and breakfast 'hotels' built in low-Earth orbit." The cost per couple for a week in orbit: $100,000 or so.
The big payoff, all seem to agree, is the experience that so many astronauts have raved about: "The Earth moving gracefully and continually below them one hundred miles away... the awe and profound sense of wholeness they felt in looking down at their home planet... the unshakable feeling that their lives had been changed for the better by the experience of coming to space."
It's an experience beyond any other -- incomparably better than sex, the closest thing to enlightenment you can buy with cash. And droves of people will pay astronomical sums of money to have it. At least, that's what proponents firmly believe.
"Space tourism will come. It is as inevitable as the Panama Canal and as irresistible as the development of communications satellites," NASA's Mankins writes.
But there are some daunting technological hurdles to get over. Civilian/commercial spacecraft must be very cheap, very safe and very reusable -- at least compared with the spacecraft currently available. Payloads launched aboard the space shuttle today cost about $10,000 per pound for the ride to orbit. At that rate, an average human passenger costs 1.5 million dollars. The immediate goal is to reduce launch costs by at least 95% while increasing vehicle reliability.
Former Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin is a leading advocate of space tourism. He sees it as a major force driving the development of the kind of low-cost launch vehicles that will be needed for the full-scale commercial settlement of space.
"It is becoming exceedingly difficult for governments to justify spending billions of dollars to keep the space industry alive," Aldrin says. "In the absence of a fully re-usable launch system with much lower launch costs, the space industry has almost no chance of developing into a self-sustaining, commercially viable industry. In order to justify the development costs of a vehicle with these capabilities, the current demand for launch rates has to increase substantially. One possible source for this increased launch demand is civilian space tourism."
Harry Dace and Jim Akkerman of Houston, Texas, are two entrepreneurs who believe they can get the space tourism industry off the ground -- literally. Their company, Advent Launch Services (http://www.advent-launch.com), aims to start launching "civilian astronauts" into space on a regular basis before the end of the decade.
They are among ten teams of people currently vying for the "X-Prize," a $10 million bounty offered to the first civilian person or group who demonstrates the ability to launch at least three passengers into space in a reusable vehicle, bring those passengers safely back down, and then do it again with the same vehicle in less than two weeks' time. The vehicle must fly at least 62 miles above the earth to qualify.
Dace and Akkerman are so confident of their eventual success that they're already selling tickets. They say a total of 2,000 people will be admitted to the "Civilian Astronaut Corps," at a cost of $5,000 each. Advance sales will help fund the building of their first rocket, an innovative design created mostly by Akkerman during the years he worked as a propulsion engineer for NASA.
The Advent rocket stands seven stories tall and is designed to fly six passengers and one pilot to an altitude of about 70 miles. The speed required for the trip is only 2,300 miles per hour, less than 15% of orbital velocity, and passengers will experience no more acceleration than riders on a fast roller coaster. At the apex of the trip, passengers will have a brief astronaut's view of the earth, and about four minutes of weightlessness.
"We hope for nothing less than beginning the commercialization of space travel," says Harry Dace.
Original file name: CNI - Space Tourism.final
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