People put space tourism in the same bracket as flying cars as little as twenty years ago. The starting point of space tourism can be traced back to 2001 and the first space tourist, Dennis Tito. However, this term didn’t become a buzzword until 2021, when two billionaires, Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, set off to space in separate spacecraft in the same week. These two events marked the beginning of the new-generation space race.
Space tourism became available in February 2022, when Virgin Galactic started selling tickets for the next trip to space. While many people jumped on the space tourism bandwagon, others are beginning to wonder whether traveling to space as a tourist is a good idea.
This article will discuss the basics of commercial space travel, outlining its most essential advantages and disadvantages.
- What Is Space Tourism?
- Pros of Space Tourism
- A Completely New Level of Sightseeing
- It Will Become More Widely Available
- You Don’t Need to Be an Astronaut to Travel to Space
- New Opportunities for Space Exploration
- It Will Inspire More People to Become Astronauts
- Passengers Will Be Able to Experience Weightlessness
- It Can Boost Scientific Research
- A New Perspective of Our Planet
- The Possibility of Finding Additional Resources
- The Possible Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life
- We May Find Other Planets to Colonize
- More Opportunities for Employment
- It Could Identify Potential Dangers to Our Planet
- Major Technological Advancements
- Endless Opportunities
- Cons of Space Tourism
- It Contributes to Global Warming
- Few People Can Afford It Right Now
- Limited Space
- It’s Not Available for Everyone
- Space Tourism Costs a Lot of Money
- It’s Not 100% Safe
- You Pay a Lot of Money for a Short Trip
- The Issue With Space Junk
- Wasting Natural Resources
- Exposure to Radiation
- Not Going Above the Kármán Line
- Out-of-Date Information
- Space Sickness
- All Those Resources Could Be Invested Elsewhere
- It Could Put Our Planet at Risk
- Space Tourism – Should We Do It?
What Is Space Tourism?
Before we go into the details regarding the pros and cons of space tourism, let’s talk about what this newest form of travel means.
Space tourism and space travel are not the same. What sets them apart is their purpose. Astronauts are sent to space to conduct various types of scientific research and experiments, and they go through rigorous training and preparation before they’re allowed to leave Earth. As a result, becoming an astronaut is incredibly challenging. Every year, NASA chooses a handful of people among tens of thousands of applicants.
Space tourism, or commercial space travel, refers to traveling to space for recreational reasons. People who want to become space tourists must satisfy three requirements: They must be 18 or older, physically fit, and rich. For example, one ticket for a 90-minute trip with Virgin Galactic costs $450,000, but we’ll get to that later.
There are three types of space tourism: orbital, suborbital, and lunar space tourism. The main difference between orbital and suborbital spacecraft is speed. Orbital space travel reaches an altitude of 1.3 million feet (400 kilometers), for which a spacecraft would need to travel at 17,400 miles per hour (28,000 kilometers per hour).
Suborbital rocket ships can only fly to a certain altitude (330,000 feet or 100 kilometers) because they don’t have enough power to orbit around the planet. As a result, these spacecraft must fly at a minimal speed of 3,700 miles per hour (6,000 kilometers per hour).
Most people assume that space tourism is pioneered by NASA and other government agencies. However, privately owned aerospace companies are now leading the global space tourism market. The three most important are Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The first two companies offer suborbital space travel, both licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for passenger space travel.
On the other hand, SpaceX plans to introduce orbital space tourism to the public. SpaceX rockets can reach 120 miles above the Earth, while Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic can’t achieve half that distance. Aside from SpaceX, Space Adventures, an American space tourism company is another enterprise that plans to introduce tourism flights to Earth’s orbit.
The final form of space tourism is lunar space travel, which includes orbiting around the moon or even landing on it. Space Adventures wants to introduce circumlunar flyby tours, but one ticket will be estimated at $150 million. SpaceX will also organize a space trip around the moon, which will be reached via the Starship.
Space tourism isn’t only in the hands of privately owned aerospace companies. NASA announced that space tourists, formally called private astronauts, will be allowed on board the International Space Station. They’ll be able to get there with the SpaceX Crew Dragon and the Boeing Starliner, which is currently being developed. Space tourists will be required to pay $35,000 for this trip to space.
Pros of Space Tourism
Many people are looking forward to the development of space tourism. In fact, the PEW Research Center surveyed the public’s opinion on space tourism in 2018. The survey revealed that 42% of participants stated they were definitely or probably interested.
It won’t only benefit people who want to be a part of this new era of space exploration but also space scientists. The advantages aren’t just limited to scientific and technological advancements. The dream will come true for many people who have always wanted to go to space.
Here are some of the most essential advantages of space tourism.
A Completely New Level of Sightseeing
People have always been drawn to brand-new, unique experiences, and what could be better than viewing the Earth from a spaceship? Whether you’re a fan of science fiction or deeply fascinated by the endless wonders of our galaxy, traveling to outer space sounds like an unattainable fantasy. However, it’s closer than you might think.
People who said they were interested in space tourism in the 2018 PEW survey named three main reasons. Most participants (45%) said they wanted to experience something unique, while 29% of those surveyed wished to view the Earth from space. The others said they wanted to travel to space to learn more about our world.
Space tourists will be able to see the Earth, the Moon, the International Space Station, the Kármán Line, and many other parts of our solar system. Traveling to space will undoubtedly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many.
It Will Become More Widely Available
Since the beginning of space travel, only about 600 people have been to space. However, the development of space tourism will make traveling to space available for many people. According to a study by Northern Sky Research, there will be almost 60,000 space tourists by 2031.
There are currently long waiting lists for Virgin Galactic flights due to take place by the end of 2022. Although it’s nearly impossible to get a seat on this cutting-edge space vehicle right now, Virgin Galactic hopes to conduct 400 flights a year.
Even though prices for space tourism are currently going through the roof, it’s believed they will be significantly reduced when commercial space exploration becomes mainstream. One day, it may even become affordable for ordinary people.
You Don’t Need to Be an Astronaut to Travel to Space
You don’t need to be a trained astronaut to become a space tourist. Previously, the opportunity to fly to outer space was only available to astronauts. However, it will be possible for everyone who can afford it in the future.
Astronauts undergo years of preparation for a single flight, whereas space tourists receive the proper training a few days or even hours before the trip. If you want to fly with Blue Origin, you’ll only need one training day. On the other hand, Virgin Galactic’s training takes five days to complete.
The requirements for becoming a space tourist vary depending on the company. For example, if you want to fly with Virgin Galactic, you must be 18. Another important factor in traveling to space is physical fitness. You need to be relatively healthy for this adventure. People with heart problems or those who are overweight or underweight won’t be able to go.
New Opportunities for Space Exploration
Exploring outer space has been the goal of many government agencies and privately owned space companies ever since the 1950s. One of the most notable events of space exploration was the space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. This 20-year battle gave rise to many technological advancements and scientific achievements. It was also when the two nations sent the world’s first-ever satellites, rockets, and astronauts into space.
Space tourism and space exploration are inherently connected, where one directly influences the other. Therefore, increasing interest in space tourism will renew the global interest in space exploration, leading to more opportunities.
It Will Inspire More People to Become Astronauts
Many children want to be astronauts when they grow up. Kids usually start with sci-fi movies and space camps before pursuing educational opportunities in engineering, science, or technology. The chance to go to space when they grow up can inspire many young minds. Many people who have visited space as tourists have stated that the experience was life-changing.
Going to space will inspire many more people to become astronauts or contribute to the space industry in another way.
Passengers Will Be Able to Experience Weightlessness
Other than being able to view our planet from outer space, passengers will also get a chance to experience weightlessness. Of course, zero-gravity simulators have already been developed on Earth, like the Zero G Experience, where people can experience weightlessness without going to space.
Space tourism allows people to sample the real thing. Once the spacecraft is launched, passengers will go through a similar experience to roller coaster rides. Space tourists who booked a flight with Blue Origin will be in zero-gravity for three minutes before the space vehicle descends to Earth.
It Can Boost Scientific Research
Space tourism can help collect valuable research data. Such information will be essential in the development of space travel and space exploration. This kind of data wouldn’t be provided by space tourists but by people who organize the trip to space. Scientific research could encourage various innovations and solutions to problems.
A New Perspective of Our Planet
Seeing our planet from space is a unique experience that will make us realize how small we are. We tend to think that we are the center of the universe and that the problems we face in life are insurmountable. However, going into space, even for a few minutes, puts things like conflicts and other issues that can be easily solved into perspective.
The Possibility of Finding Additional Resources
Another advantage of space tourism is the possibility of finding resources that are being depleted from our planet. If spacecraft take frequent trips to the moon or other locations in outer space, there is a greater chance of finding valuable resources that can be used for various applications.
For example, resources such as water, metals, minerals, atmospheric gases, and volatile elements can be found on various celestial bodies surrounding the Earth. For example, water was already found on the moon, Mars, and in some asteroids. Oxygen is another valuable resource that’s necessary for rocket propellants.
Not only can we use the raw materials to make life easier on Earth, but those resources can be put into improving aerospace technology. In other words, space tourism might pay off in the long run.
The Possible Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life
Space tourism brings us closer to finding extraterrestrial life. The subject of aliens has always been controversial, sparking many arguments about their existence. However, even though there is no solid proof of extraterrestrial life, many scientists agree that the odds of life on other planets are high.
The more money and resources that are invested into the commercial space travel industry, the further we will be able to explore. One of the goals of space exploration is discovering life outside of Earth, and space tourism can make this happen.
We May Find Other Planets to Colonize
Space tourism may even bring us closer to finding new planets to colonize. But unfortunately, there haven’t been any discoveries of planets that are habitable and safe for human life yet. The planet closest to Earth in terms of habitability is Kepler-452b, which seems to be the most promising candidate.
The Mars colonization project is already on the way. Elon Musk plans to take SpaceX to Mars in five to ten years. So even though moving to a new planet seems like a plot from a movie right now, who knows what the future might bring? One thing is sure – space tourism will open new doors for us and allow us to explore more of the universe.
More Opportunities for Employment
Hundreds of thousands of people are employed in the space industry, government agencies, and private companies. The growth of space tourism will open new doors for many individuals. As a result, the sector will likely see an increase in employment in the next couple of years.
It Could Identify Potential Dangers to Our Planet
Traveling to space lets us view the Earth from a different perspective. This will help us identify dangers to our planet and prepare for potential hazards. For example, if an asteroid or a comet is heading toward Earth, we would have more time to prepare. By exploring space, we could locate some of those hazards before they even come close and prevent a potential disaster.
Major Technological Advancements
As interest keeps growing in space tourism, more and more private companies will want to be a part of the new-generation space race. This will lead to significant technological advancements in the aerospace sector, facilitating space tourism even more. As a result, we can expect to see bigger, faster, and better rockets in the future, which will be made for suborbital space tourism and orbital space travel.
The future of space exploration through space tourism presents countless opportunities. The Northern Sky Research space tourism study suggests that the global space tourism market will be worth $20 billion in revenue.
Space tourism may replace long-air flights. Instead of traveling 16 to 17 hours from one continent to another, space travel will enable passengers to reach their destinations in under an hour.
One day, there might even be hotels in space, allowing space tourists to enjoy the wonders of space for a longer time. This is the goal of the Orbital Assembly Corporation. Their space hotels, the Voyager Station and the Pioneer Station, will orbit the Earth. Blue Origin and Orion Span are also working on building hotels in space called the Aurora Station and the Orbital Reef.
Cons of Space Tourism
Now that we’ve gone through all the advantages of space tourism let’s look at some downsides. Space tourism is extremely expensive and inaccessible, but it can also be dangerous in several ways.
It Contributes to Global Warming
Launching a rocket creates a significant carbon footprint. Spacecraft generate soot, a harmful substance of large amounts of carbon. Once it’s released into the atmosphere, the soot from a spacecraft is absorbed by sunlight, which increases the warmth in the atmosphere.
A spacecraft must burn excessive fuel to reach space and overcome Earth’s gravity. We’re talking hundreds of tons, which can leak through the rocket and spill into the atmosphere. The harmful chemicals, along with rocket fumes, harm the ozone layer.
Few People Can Afford It Right Now
It’s already possible to purchase tickets for space. However, it’s costly. One ticket for a ride with Virgin Galactic costs $450,000, and that’s only for a 90-minute trip. Now, becoming a space tourist is only possible if you’re a multi-millionaire. The only people who have become space tourists are billionaires like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Sir Richard Branson. That’s why space tourism has been dubbed “the billionaire space race.”
Right now, both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have enough room for a maximum of six passengers. However, if we were to include the two pilots, they could only accommodate four more people. For that reason, those who wish to participate in the space exploration experience must book tickets several years in advance. More than 600 reservations have already been made for Virgin Galactic space tours.
In other words, if you were thinking about buying a ticket for a space trip that will take place this year, you can forget about it. That being said, SpaceX announced they were working on a spacecraft with enough room for up to 100 passengers.
It’s Not Available for Everyone
As mentioned before, not everyone will be able to become a space tourist. Even if you have the money and you’re old enough, your health and physical condition could prevent you from participating in space tourism.
Those allowed to travel to space need to be in pretty good shape. Aerospace companies have different rules and requirements. For example, Blue Origin only lets you buy tickets if you can climb seven flights of stairs in under 90 seconds. People who fail to meet their requirements are automatically eliminated.
There are also different height and weight requirements. For example, you can’t weigh less than 110 pounds or more than 223 pounds to become a space tourist.
Space Tourism Costs a Lot of Money
Space tourism isn’t only expensive for the passengers but for the private space company as well. For example, a return trip to the International Space Station with the Boeing Starliner or the SpaceX Crew Dragon will cost around $50 million.
The trips to the International Space Station carried out by Space Adventures from 2001 to 2009 cost $20 to $30 million for eight- to 14-day trips. The more recent trip to the International Space Station cost $55 million when Axiom Space sent the Crew Dragon Endeavor spacecraft in June 2022. The space tourists were there for 17 days.
It’s Not 100% Safe
Space tourism is still a generally new concept. In fact, Blue Origin has only carried out three space tourism launches so far, while Virgin Galactic went just once. Space travel continues to be dangerous due to many factors, such as inadequate safety protocols and lack of proper regulation. Traveling to space isn’t safe, so we must consider the worst-case scenario. If the spacecraft crashes, there won’t be a way to save any passengers.
You Pay a Lot of Money for a Short Trip
Space tourists will be required to pay a ridiculous amount of money for a short time in space. For example, if you choose to travel with Blue Origin, you will only spend a few minutes in zero gravity, for which you would have to pay $200,000.
Other aerospace companies offer longer trips. For example, Virgin Galactic will send their spacecraft into space for three hours. Similarly, the New Shepard will be in space for approximately 11 minutes, while the Virgin VSS Unity flight takes two and a half hours.
The Issue With Space Junk
Space junk refers to man-made debris and satellites that are no longer active and always orbit around our planet. While testing new rockets, launching them into space, and even on space missions, these rockets create a large amount of waste. In the 60 years of human space travel, we have generated over half a million items of space junk.
Space junk is another form of pollution that directly affects the Earth. Not to mention that space junk can also damage active satellites and spacecraft that might be close by. Space junk is dangerous because all those micro shards accumulate into larger piles of debris.
Wasting Natural Resources
If the space mission is successful, all the investments and resources put into the project will pay off one way or another. However, if the experimentation fails, the resources will have been spent for nothing. The same applies to space tourism. If we were to look at a trip to space from that perspective, we would have to ask ourselves, is it worth spending so much money and resources just to send six people to space for three minutes?
Exposure to Radiation
One of the dangers of being an astronaut is constant exposure to harmful radiation from the sun, which leads to a greater risk of cancer and other health problems. Of course, space tourists who only spend a few minutes or hours in space shouldn’t have anything to worry about. But those who spend days or weeks in space might want to consider this factor.
Not Going Above the Kármán Line
The Kármán Line is a widely accepted border between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. It’s roughly 100 kilometers (62 miles) above sea level, located in the Earth’s thermosphere. Although no globally accepted law defines where space begins or ends, most regulatory agencies agree that the Kármán line is the closest we have to a border.
Suborbital spacecraft belonging to Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic won’t be able to cross the Kármán Line, which is considered “real” space. However, this may change in the future.
No matter how fast space technology might be developing, space scientists still use outdated information for some matters. Unfortunately, outdated information is useless and can also be dangerous and cause serious issues.
The problem with space research is that most of the celestial bodies that aren’t in our solar system are light-years away. Unfortunately, measuring time and distance in space is difficult, so we often receive inaccurate information.
Even for three minutes, exposure to zero gravity can affect the human body. To be more specific, passengers won’t have any side effects while they’re in space. The issues start when they return to Earth when space tourists experience space adaptation syndrome (SAS).
This is more commonly known as space sickness, like the space version of motion sickness. Space sickness manifests itself through loss of muscle power, bone resorption, loss of consciousness, and other short- and long-term effects. However, such symptoms are more likely to affect astronauts who spend months in space.
Space tourists may experience mild symptoms, like headaches, nausea, puffiness, temporary anemia, loss of appetite, and similar. They can even feel sick a few days after their journey to space. That’s why space tourism will only be available for passengers who are in good health.
All Those Resources Could Be Invested Elsewhere
Space tourism is a multibillion-dollar industry, and its revenue is only expected to grow. Since so much money is being invested, it raises many controversies. The Earth is in a lot of trouble, financially, politically, and environmentally. As a result, many politicians, humanitarians, and public figures have tried to highlight other matters that require our immediate attention. This includes poverty, global warming, world hunger, and many more issues that could benefit from these resources.
It Could Put Our Planet at Risk
Last but not least, space tourism can be dangerous because it puts our planet at risk. This is another scenario that could be taken from a sci-fi movie. But in the future, traveling to space might have grave consequences.
Space Tourism – Should We Do It?
Space tourism is a controversial topic. On the one hand, it can be a wonderful experience that allows us to view our planet and other celestial bodies from space. In addition, it opens up new doors for space exploration, inspires technological advancements, and boosts scientific research. But on the other hand, space tourism is extremely expensive; it accelerates global warming, is only available for a limited number of people, and can be very dangerous.
Whatever your opinion on space tourism, there’s no stopping its advancement. People will always be drawn to new things no one has experienced before, which is just one of the reasons the commercial space travel industry will grow. One day, we might even have hotels on the moon or other planets. There’s no telling what the future might bring.