Since Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson blasted into space in July 2021, space tourism has become an increasingly popular topic. However, while many people are excited about the prospect, others are worried about the potential consequences of commercial space travel.
This article will discuss space tourism and its impact on the economy, science, technology, and the planet.
- What Is Space Tourism?
- Positive Impacts of Space Tourism
- Negative Impacts of Space Tourism
- Is Space Tourism Worth It?
What Is Space Tourism?
In July 2021, Sir Richard Branson traveled into space in one of Virgin Galactic’s aircraft, and one week later, Jeff Bezos followed in his footsteps with Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft. These two events marked an important milestone in space tourism and the beginning of the new-generation space race.
But what exactly is space tourism? Well, it’s precisely what one might assume – traveling to space as a tourist. Professional astronauts go to space to undertake scientific research or conduct experiments. For example, they study how the human body behaves in space, test how technology can and can’t aid astronauts, and try to find places with off-Earth resources.
Space tourism wasn’t developed for any of those reasons. Instead, it’s supposed to be for recreational and leisure purposes. In other words, commercial space travel is just for fun.
Even though the term “space tourism” only recently captured the public’s attention, it has been around for some time. The world’s first space tourist was Dennis Tito, who funded his trip into space in 2001. Since then, many privately owned aerospace companies, like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX, have shifted their focus to space tourism.
Since the beginning of space travel and exploration, only around 600 people have been to space. However, with the rise of space tourism, it’s believed that flying to space will become much more common. In fact, a study conducted by Northern Sky Research says there will be over 57,500 people who will fly to space in the next ten years or so.
Not to mention that tickets for Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic suborbital flights are already on sale. There have also been over 700 tickets sold for Virgin Galactic’s suborbital trip to space.
Therefore, there’s no point in arguing against commercial space travel industry growth in the near future. However, this brings us to the question of what impacts space tourism will have on Earth. As with any other large-scale venture, space tourism is predicted to have both positive and negative effects on the planet.
Positive Impacts of Space Tourism
Space tourism represents a massive step forward from regular space exploration, not to mention tourism. While there are many types of tourism, the most popular is adventure tourism. Therefore, we can view space tourism as an advanced combination of space travel and adventure tourism.
Space tourism will undoubtedly change how we view our planet in numerous ways. For many people around the world, space tourism opens up new doors. So let’s take a closer look at how space tourism will positively affect our planet.
It Will Bring Us Closer to Space
Space tourism is an opportunity for many people to travel around the Earth and experience the thrill of going to space. Until recently, outer space travel was only available for the best astronauts, pilots, and space engineers worldwide. The fact that only around 600 people have been to space since humans started exploring outer space is confirmation of this. Space tourism brings space travel and exploration to ordinary people … least ordinary people with a lot of money.
Despite the ridiculously high prices of space travel (one ticket for a 90-minute suborbital trip with Virgin Galactic currently costs $450,000), it’s believed space tourism will become much more affordable in the future. If we were to look at the beginnings of air travel, only the wealthy were able to afford plane tickets. Today, you can fly to another country for under $100. As space tourism becomes more mainstream in the future, the prices are likely to go down.
Traveling to space more frequently will give people a new perspective of our planet. Do you know that feeling when you’re on a plane, looking down and thinking how small the world actually is? Imagine the same experience from a spaceship. This is more commonly known as the overview effect, a feeling astronauts describe as unforgettable and one-of-a-kind.
Scientific Research and Technological Advancements
Space tourism is about pushing the boundaries, exploring new places, and discovering the vastness of space. One of the most important effects of space tourism will be more scientific research and technological advancements. We’re already seeing major technological inventions developed by privately owned aerospace companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic. The competition between these three companies and other contenders will encourage innovation in various fields of space science.
With the development of space tourism, space engineers are likely to encounter challenges and obstacles along the way. However, this will inspire them to develop new technology and do more research designed primarily for space travel and tourism, leading to new discoveries.
The Employment Rate
Space tourism will boost the world’s economy and provide new opportunities to engineers, scientists, technology experts, and anyone passionate about space travel.
If we look at the tourism industry alone, we will see that it creates 284 million jobs worldwide. Moreover, the tourism industry was worth almost $9 trillion in 2019, accounting for 10% of the global gross domestic product.
Regarding the space tourism market, its estimated worth is $175.3 Million in the U.S. alone. According to the same source, experts believe it could grow to $1.7 billion in the next five years. The Northern Sky Research study mentioned above predicts growth of $20.3 billion by 2031. Up to 66% of the overall revenue opportunity will be made by orbital travel, a field currently dominated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.
As the space tourism industry grows, there will be more job openings in various sectors.
New Opportunities for Space Exploration
Space tourism presents new opportunities for the entire space exploration industry. It prompts space engineers and scientists to ask themselves, “What’s next?” Space tourism’s future is uncertain, but this market’s rapid development suggests positive outcomes.
We could be looking at longer orbital space travel, landing on the Moon, and even space hotels. In fact, some space hotels are already being developed, like the Voyager Station, which should be open to visitors in 2027. If everything goes according to plan, the Voyager Station will become the first commercial space hotel.
Negative Impacts of Space Tourism
Many experts argue that space tourism has more cons than pros. While some might say that space tourism is the next big adventure, others claim it’s the next big disaster. So let’s look at some of space tourism’s most substantial negative impacts.
It’s Bad for the Environment
One of space tourism’s biggest concerns is its environmental effects. Rockets require a lot of fuel to be launched into space while overcoming Earth’s gravity field. The fuel they use generates soot, a black powdery substance with a heavy concentration of carbon.
One suborbital space tourism flight that lasts one hour and a half creates the same amount of soot and pollution as a trans-Atlantic flight that lasts 10 hours. More rocket ships will be launched into space with increasing frequency, owing to the unquestionable growth of the space tourism industry. This will undoubtedly contribute to climate change and harm the Earth’s atmosphere.
Rockets are so bad for the environment because they pollute the Earth’s stratosphere, which is 7.5 miles to 34 miles above the Earth’s surface. Once the black soot is deposited in the stratosphere, it won’t be dissipated by rain or blown away by winds. Instead, the rocket soot will remain in the stratosphere for years until it gets absorbed by sunlight, resulting in excessive warmth and further damage to the ozone layer.
Another issue is that there isn’t enough research on how rocket emissions affect the stratosphere. That’s because it’s typically the lower layer of the atmosphere that’s polluted by air travel. This leaves scientists with more questions about the impact of space tourism on the Earth’s environment.
However, some argue that space tourism won’t be as detrimental to the Earth’s atmosphere as many think. For example, the National Space Society published an article claiming that space tourism will have a minor impact on climate change, as opposed to passenger flights that occur daily.
According to the same article, the three leading aerospace companies will try to incorporate sustainable technology and carbon-neutral fuel. For example, Blue Origin’s New Shepard only uses water as exhaust, while SpaceX spacecraft will use methane fuel and solar power.
Pollution in Space
Not only will pollution be increased on Earth, but in space as well. This issue is otherwise known as orbital debris or “space junk.” NASA claims that over 27,000 pieces of orbital debris are now circling the planet. Some larger pieces are tracked by sensors developed by the Space Surveillance Network, but others are too small to be tracked. The majority of these pieces are the same size as a softball.
If a part of a spacecraft breaks down or falls off, it’s at risk of floating towards the Earth’s orbit. While pieces of space junk may not threaten life on Earth, they can collide with spacecraft and cause serious issues. Space junk travels at an incredibly high speed of up to 15,700 miles an hour. Compared to an average rocket’s speed in low orbit, 17,000 miles an hour, this is a cause for concern. If it flies into a spacecraft or a satellite, it will result in significant damage.
It might even hit a passenger spacecraft and put people’s lives at risk.
Space Tourism Requires a Lot of Funding
A lot of resources and funding are required to send one craft into space. Statistics from previous trips to space reveal that there wasn’t one trip that didn’t cost at least $20 million. Privately owned aerospace companies spend even more money for a single rocket launch. For instance, when Axiom Space sent the Crew Dragon Endeavor to the International Space Station in April 2022, it cost them $55 million.
When Jeff Bezos set off to space on the New Shepard in July 2021, he only experienced a few minutes of weightlessness before returning to Earth. He paid a whopping $5.5 billion for this short adventure.
Given that only six people can board the Blue Origin spacecraft, and the journey will only last a few minutes, many people wonder whether space tourism is worth it. A suborbital trip with Virgin Galactic should last slightly longer – about an hour and a half. However, paying $450,000 for that time is still out of the question for many people.
Concerned humanitarians argue that this money could be used for worthier causes. World hunger, poverty, global warming, deforestation, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need for renewable energy are some issues at the top of the list.
Is Space Tourism Worth It?
Traveling to space has been a dream for many people, and space tourism will make this dream a reality. The bad news is that it will come with dire consequences. Many researchers and scientists argue that space tourism will harm the environment and contribute to pollution in outer space.
Space tourism advocates say it is the next logical step toward space exploration and leads to various discoveries and technological advances.
There’s definitely more work to be done to evaluate the future risks of space tourism. However, what we can conclude so far is that the commercial space travel industry will definitely grow in the near future.