It seems that the era of "space tourism" is well upon us.
By late next year, the first regular flights into orbit will be offered out of Spaceport America, the operating hub of Virgin Galactic in New Mexico. Expect a seat to cost the passenger around $100 to $200,000 depending. That's a bargain, all things considered. And there is every indication that the price is only going to continue to drop.
That's a worry for many who study the environment and climate change. To them, space tourism just means more launches and that means a vast increase in the amount of black carbon emissions coughed up into an already sick and polluted atmosphere. This is probably only the beginning of the systematic errors inherent in the program. No doubt NASA must have its concerns over commercial space travel colliding by accident with any number of the orbital bodies above the Earth. The State Department is probably drawing up responses to the crash of a space tourist craft into a foreign nation. The Department of Defense has had experience with more than a couple of innocuous launches being mistaken for nuclear first strikes in the Kremlin and I don't even want to think about what kind of a regulation headache its going to be in terms of safety and assurance, not to mention exactly what agency is going to oversee it. So in light of all of this, is it even worth it?
I'm going to say "yes." I've said it many times before on Strange Horizons: we have to leave this planet if the human race is going to survive. If space tourism can represent the first baby steps towards that, if it can give everyday people a sense that space travel isn't just an esoteric notion or something meant for the elite few alone, then I believe it could be the beginning of a shift in attitudes, an entire re-imagining of just what the purpose of space travel is and why we should support it. Plus, I have my own selfish reasons for wanting to press forward. I am going to do my damndest, perhaps with my first million earned in book sales (snicker), to take part in one of these commercial flights. To go into space, even if for just a few minutes? I'd cough up the 100 grand if I had it. Screw the environment.
And here's a couple of folks from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's rally in D.C. last month who seem to have the right idea:
Also, check out Google's logo for today in honor of the discovery of X-rays:
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