REACHING FOR THE STARS: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF SPACE TOURISM
Join us for a leap into the future of space tourism and the environmental impact of space capitalism
Words: Aleksandra Georgieva
Photography: History in HD, Adam Miller, NASA
18 June 2020
As technology evolves, reaching for the stars has turned into a vision within the reach of the human race. You might have heard of companies dreaming of building hotels in orbit. You’ve probably watched space launches by pioneers in reusable rockets. The future of travelling has evolved dramatically. People now aim further than continental journeys as more and more thrill seekers get ready to take a leap beyond the boundaries of our home planet.
Reaching the Earth’s orbit could very likely be the future trajectory of tourists and not only astronauts. We look into the brief history of space travelling, the major players that work on getting tourists into orbit and the cost of space capitalism for our planet’s environment. The rise of space travels turns from one small step for men into a giant leap for capitalists looking into offering the wealthy the hottest take-off tickets on Earth.
What Happens When You Get into Space?
Travelling into space is far from trivial and the term ‘space tourist’ is often regarded negatively by private space travellers. Both the Russian Federal Space Agency and NASA officially describe the seekers of beyond planetary adventures as ‘space participants’, also referred to as ‘private space explorers’ and ‘commercial astronauts’. However, getting into space requires multiple fitness tests and intense training programmes.
From a biological perspective, space travelling has numerous unconventional effects on the human body. As the body and cells adapt, major changes take place. From decreased body mass to changes in the eye shape, metabolism shifts, swelling in major blood vessels and even changes in the physical structure of DNA. Passing the tests for landing and take-off leads future space participants to get accustomed to bearing the 3Gs of g-force pressure alongside the effects of moving faster than the speed of sound.
Future space travellers, who are headed for the International Space Station will have the opportunity to witness views far beyond human comprehension on Earth. Sights such as clustering city lights from above the planet’s largest megalopolises will reveal themselves. En route to the ISS, travellers also have the luxury of seeing sixteen sunrises and sunsets every day. Although spacewalks are currently out of reach for tourists, billionaire-funded engineers and operators such as Space Adventures promise such leaps to become a possibility in the not-too-distant future.
Space Tourism to This Day:
To clarify, the term space tourism refers to travelling into space for purposes of recreation. These are typically journeys in the orbit of planet Earth or around it. Such travels last around ten minutes, but adventurers can also opt-in for a cosmic experience of spending a few days in the International Space Station. Future space tourism is set to reach places beyond what humans are currently exploring, to planets such as Mars and the Moon.
The only private citizens who went into orbit until this day got there via the Russian space agency Roscosmos. Seven journeys on the Soyuz spacecraft were organised to the ISS with the astronomical price of around $20 million per person. Among the passengers on board were Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberté and engineer Anousheh Ansari.
Since 1967 when the Outer Space Treaty was signed, Russia and the US began cooperating in space and today the on-board team of the International Space Station is mainly formed of both these nationalities. Russia hit the brakes on space tourism in 2010 in order to ensure transportation for the growing crew of astronauts, engineers and experts on the ISS. The following year, NASA discharged its Space Shuttle and started paying an estimate of £70 million ($90 m) for passengers to board Russia's Soyuz spacecraft.
The Race for Space Capitalism:
Once upon a time, the space race used to be between different countries but much has shifted since. The major players on the space stage are now the private companies and the billionaire founders behind such corporations. NASA even launched the Commercial Crew Program in an effort to satisfy the demand for transporting crew and cargo to private companies, while reserving resources and time for additional deep-space exploration.
In the bid to push commercialism through the Earth’s atmosphere, various questions emerge. Travel agencies and tourists alike begin to wonder about the impact of space travelling on our planet’s environment and the consequential effect on the future of conventional tourism as we know it today. The Federation of Aviation Administration estimates that within a decade from today commercial space tourism can grow into a billion-dollar market, which comes as no wonder considering the ticket price per passenger, which currently revolves between a quarter of a million and £16 million.
How Travelling Beyond Earth Impacts the Planet’s Environment:
The history of space travels came at quite a high environmental cost. Launching space crafts with astronauts in the past ended up with rockets at the bottom of the ocean or parts orbiting the atmosphere. Recently, a lot of noise was created revolving around reusable rockets. While the science behind such travel equipment is complex, the impact on the Earth’s environment is not as simple as recycling and reusing materials in our day-to-day lives.
The reality remains similar as that of the past. Launching a rocket, much like it was all these decades ago, still requires the burn of an awful lot of fuel. This, in turn, contaminates the planet’s atmosphere. In such terms, reusing rockets realistically is a tool in bringing down the price of space travelling tickets. An increase in travelling beyond Earth’s atmosphere will harm the ozone layer around our planet, since hundreds of tonnes of black carbon are predicted to get released by such practice. A study, partly funded by NASA in 2010, predicts that expanding the market of space travelling could cause plenty of environmental damage including imposing a further threat to the climate change phenomena.
Let There Be Flight: The Major Companies in the Space Race
If the idea of becoming a space tourist tempts you, the following companies are the pioneers that may make your dream come to life.
SpaceX took the lead in the race for commercialising space with the launch of Crew Dragon to the ISS on 30 May 2020. Elon Musk's venture pioneers reusable rockets in attempt to bring down the space travel costs from millions to hundreds of thousands. SpaceX strives for "making life multiplanetary". The company has a moon flight scheduled for 2023 when Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is expected to turn into the first private lunar traveller, while Musk has expressed hopes that by 2025 SpaceX would be sending tourists to Mars for about half a million US dollars.
Blue Origin is the space venture of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whose vision is for humans to settle into living and working in space. The company shares values of preserving Earth for future generations by tapping into the unlimited resources of the universe. Blue Origin is currently testing its New Shepard capsule, set to take six travellers and cargo 100km above terra firma for an eleven-minute journey of weightlessness with front-row views upon Earth’s surface. The capsule is designed not only to pass the Kármán line, the internationally recognised boundary of space, but it will also land its passengers back in the West Texas desert.
Boeing makes a major move beyond air crafts. The plane company was hired by the Commercial Crew Program of NASA to design the CST-100 Starliner capsule. The spacecraft is set to take future space travellers and astronauts to and from the International Space Station and the low-Earth orbit.
Virgin Galactic is on a mission to "transform the current cost, safety and environmental impact" of space tourism. Richard Branson aims to create "reusable space vehicles" to launch from New Mexico's Spaceport America. Virgin Galactic was about to make a debut commercial flight in 2015, where for a quarter of a million US dollars some 700 people, including well-known celebrities, were about to set off into space, before the vehicle failed in a test flight over the Mojave Desert. Currently, VSS Unity is the second space craft in testing mode intended to transport tourists into space.
Expectations vs Reality
If you are set to pay the astronomical cost of future space endeavours, you may have certain expectations of the accommodation in space. Yet, the reality of existing in zero-g and microgravity may differ to the ideas floating in your mind. Here’s how space accommodation works.
Prior to June 2019 the International Space Station was banned for commercial use. Today, NASA has opened the ISS for business ventures and tourists in exchange for $35,000 (£28,000) per passenger per night, at a limit of 30 days’ stay at a time. This hefty price tag excludes the cost of your transportation into orbit and back. Unlike conventional accommodation, the options in space are limited to say the least. Visitors of the ISS occupy small spaces, resting in sleeping bags clipped to the wall to prevent sleep-floating.
Orion Span is a US-based company that announced plans to develop a luxury space hotel where a maximum of six guests at a time can float into space for $9.5 million (£7.5 million) per person. The venture is set to grace the universe by 2022, on-board the Aurora Space Station where each flight would last 12 consecutive days. Guests of the luxury accommodations are planned to enjoy non-space food with the opportunity to play "hologram deck" and stay in a 13m x 4m, which is a relatively spacious space cabin.
Travelling has taken a whole new meaning with the rise of technology and the race to space tourism. If you wish to be among the first private citizens to walk in space, board the International Space Station or circumnavigate the moon, you are invited to secure your tickets and get ready for some fitness tests before take-off in the near future. Astronauts and spacecraft engineers are on the breach of turning what was known as a giant leap for humankind into a much smaller and more realistic step for humans since significantly more people will be able to set foot in space.
The Federation of Aviation Administration estimates that in the next decade commercial space tourism can grow into a billion-dollar market. This comes as no wonder considering the ticket price per passenger currently revolves between a quarter of a million US dollars and £16 million.