The way forward then was, firstly, to devise reusable launch vehicles; and, secondly, to gauge whether there was enough public support for space tourism to make it economically viable.
The first market research carried out on the subject showed positive results. Seventy per cent of those quizzed in Japan in 1993 were enthusiastic about the idea, and almost half of them were willing to sacrifice three months’ salary to be able to put it into practice. Subsequent surveys carried out in Toronto, Berlin and the USA yielded very similar results.
Clearly, space travel was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure a lot of people yearningly looked forward to. Behind the scenes, work got underway at a feverish pace to make space tourism an achievable goal.
The term ‘tourism’ invariably incorporates a hotel industry, and it is visualised that visitors to space will put up in hotels that will offer many of the services that one would expect from any quality hotel on earth, including private rooms, meals and bars. Alongside these will be the opportunity to enjoy rare experiences like living in zero-G and looking out at mind-blowing views of the earth and space.
Moving in zero-G is an art that will need to be cultivated but that will provide tremendous scope for the exercise of skill, and for fun and entertainment. While one is getting the hang of it, one can spend hours pushing off from a wall at just the right rotation rate and trying to land on one’s feet on the opposite wall!
One can well imagine a whole new array of sports being invented under the umbrella term of ‘Space Sports’. Who knows?—Someday there might even be a ‘Space Olympics’!
In a small but significant way, space tourism has already started. At the moment, the only organisation providing transport to space is the Russian Space Agency. The price of a flight aboard a Soyuz aircraft to the International Space Station, an internationally developed research facility being assembled in Low Earth Orbit, along with a one-week stay there, is worth US $ 20 million. The trip is brokered by the space tourism company, Space Adventures Limited.
The first space tourist, in April 2001, was American businessman Dennis Tito. He was followed almost exactly a year later by South African businessman Mark Shuttle worth; by another American businessman Greg Olsen in October 2005; by the first female space tourist, an Iranian-American engineer Anousheh Ansari in September 2006; and by a Hungarian-American software architect, Dr Charles Simonyi, in April 2007.
The accent, at the moment, is on suborbital space tourism, and spaceports are being constructed in numerous locations in the USA, as well as in Sweden and the United Arab Emirates.
While space tourism is all set to progress by leaps and bounds over the next few decades, not everyone takes kindly to it. Commenting on a space tourism project, Gunter Verheugen, Vice-President of the European Commission, made this pungent observation, ‘It’s only for the super-rich, which is against my social convictions.’