Houston, we have a tourist.
In an announcement today, NASA claimed they are opening up the International Space Station (ISS) to commercial businesses to “accelerate a thriving economy in low-Earth orbit.” Interestingly, the government agency has been publicly opposed to such agendas, but, factoring in profits, the move would allow it to ship the first woman and the next man to the moon in 2024.
In the announcement, which detailed that the venture could debut as soon as next year, NASA claimed that it would ideally send up to two private citizens for a period of 30 days. Base costs for the trip would run passengers about $35,000 per night, which would include food, communication, and storage. What it wouldn’t include is the time and labor of a NASA astronaut who would be coordinating the commercial activities—$17,500 an hour. The total cost to get to the ISS and back could run around $50 million, factoring in the efforts of NASA’s crew and the actual spacecraft to get tourists to their destination.
Obviously, NASA isn’t the only organization eyeing this final frontier. Space Adventures, founded in 1998, launched the world’s first private explorer, 32-year-old businessman Dennis Tito (who paid $20 million for the journey), to the ISS in 2001. They’ve since launched multiple clients, including Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist. For a $250,000 ticket, Virgin Galactic has also floated onto the space tourism scene. The company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson, first made the promise to deliver a commercial space experience in 2004 and around 700 are queued up for a ride.
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So, yes, space tourism will be a thing as soon as next year. But, just because you can go, should you?
Pro: It’s Space!
To be honest, going to space would be pretty freaking cool. We’re going to have to leave the planet at some point (right?), so why not dip your toe into the abyss and see how it goes. The universe is a mystery and the more people see and explore it, the better chance we have at moving forward as a civilization (deep, I know).
Con: Space Is Cold and Scary!
Such space movies as Alien, Gravity, and Event Horizon are a little more than discouraging if you’re considering interstellar travel; while I would say, “that’s just Hollywood!” space is infinite, so I can’t make any guarantees.
Pro: It’s NASA!
Space is deemed “the great unknown” for a reason, and exploring that unknown naturally requires a great amount of trust. Can you put your trust in billionaires like Jeff Bezos, the richest man on the planet, or Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and Joe Rogan Show guest, both controversial men who are racing to capitalize on space exploration? NASA, on the other hand, is an independent agency of the United States government that has made historic, verified achievements in space, including putting a man on the moon and landing a rover on Mars in 2012 (Yes, it has a Twitter.).
Plus, the economic implications of the venture(s) would allow for the creation of jobs, which is a priority for NASA. The development of technology is an equally important factor as innovation will be key in putting more and more people into orbit as these companies iron out any kinks.
Con: NASA Is Expensive!
I’ll state the obvious: space exploration is very, very expensive, and not everyone has the aforementioned dollar amounts it takes to go to space just lying around. Basically, only the 1% have access to this offering, and, if given the opportunity to be among the first tourists in space, they could control the perception and pursuit(s) of space travel. If the current political climate is any proof, do we really want that sort of behavior to spill over into the final frontier?
Pro: It’s Not Crowded!
Speaking of kinks, one of the biggest problems of tourism in today’s world is, well, overtourism. So, if we got people off of this world … problem solved? Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.