The race to space tourism heats up, with Branson and Bezos as pioneers
“Space, the final frontier is just around the corner.” If the visionary tycoons today are to be believed, it may be just a few decades before that famous Star Trek quote adds a more immediate time frame, the present, to its equally famous split infinitive. The cost-per-seat is astronomical, the risks are tremendous and unpredictable, and yet the rewards of being the first to build a sustainable space-tourism business are similarly immeasurable.
In his interview with Express, British astronaut Tim Peake who had clocked four space shuttle trips under the National Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA) in the 1990s enthuses that the experience is almost beyond words, and definitely worth repeating. He relates how the sight of “beautiful” planet Earth moved him, and gave him a greater appreciation of the life he returned to. In his estimate, it will be this generation of Millennials who will set foot on red planet Mars. Peake was referring not solely to his fellow, younger astronauts, but the average civilian who could pay for a ticket on the shuttle with the same ease that he takes a trip on an ocean cruise line today.
Sci-fi tomes and travel is just the tip of this infinite iceberg. Once the spaceship, and technologies that can fully eliminate the health and safety risks of space travel, entire industries can emerge. Innovations on food and drink preservation would eventually be enabling a cabin-crew-like service space voyages. In the far future, there could be space colonization would be real and properties on the moon and other planets would be measured, assessed, bought and sold. Who knows? Space travellers would be trading business information and reading online news on the 22nd-century versions of business-and-news apps like Born2Invest, Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg.
With interplanetary travel as one of the possible goals, the powerful people who do have the money are making the necessary investments right now to make space travel within reach. Just last month, billionaire Richard Branson unveiled his Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two in California. According to the Reporter, the ship would be subjected to rigorous tests to avoid an explosion similar to what destroyed Branson’s first attempt in 2014. The accident and its costs in terms of human lives and lost revenues had at first made Branson reconsider his plans. He continued because he felt that space tourism was “too important: to give up.” The 65-year-old business maverick expresses his hope to see paying customers board his ship to the fringes of outer space during his lifetime.
The Washington Post breaks the story that its publisher, Jeff Bezos, unveiled his own space shuttle financed by Blue Origin which he funded in 2000. The Amazon CEO projects a commercial flight where customers could walk in zero gravity on board a vessel orbiting 62 miles in space. Still, that date depends on how much Bezos is satisfied with the testing; as of last November, the New Shephard space ship had passed a crucial test twice—a successful land-to-outer-space voyage, which also proved that the vessel could do it more than once.
However, one unexpected development that is spurring the race to greater heights is the entry of the Russians. Kosmokurs is tapping into reusable rocket technology to successfully launch their own version of the space shuttle 120 miles above terra firma, says the Business Insider. The Russian trip will take a quarter of an hour, and half of that can be spent by the passengers floating inside a space station.
The engagement of the United States and Russia evokes echoes of the USA-USSR contest to put the first man on the moon more than 30 years ago. However, there is one difference this time: while governments fueled the space race during the Cold War, in the 21st century it is the private sector who is driven by a greater vision and the entrepreneurial competitiveness to create a sustainable business in a new industry, namely, space tourism.
Bezos would not name how much a seat on his commercial space shuttle would cost. However, the man who taught millions of book lovers to buy their literary jewels online does imagine a future once dreamed of only by science-fiction authors: “…millions of people will be working and living in space.”
In that future ecosystem, as in earthbound industries, there will be people who will take the trip for leisure, and others may do it for business. There will be customers and investors who will be checking the worth of their business and stocks on space-friendly apps while they are watching the earth rotate. Given the immensity of space, among their ranks might be younger, future versions of Branson and Bezos checking online the risks and rewards of investing their money in outer space.