Space Tourism, Evolution of
Space Tourism, Evolution of
In 1967 Barron Hilton, the chief executive officer of Hilton Hotels Corporation, stated that it was his dream to be a pioneer of space tourism. At that time, he spoke of his plans for hotels in space, including the Orbiter Hilton and the Lunar Hilton. The Orbiter Hilton would move freely around in space, orbiting Earth, whereas the Lunar Hilton would be located on the surface of the Moon. Hilton realized that he would have to wait until the time was right, but that time is now approaching.
Recently, Dennis Tito, a 60-year-old California tycoon, made his place in history as the first person to buy his way into space as a tourist, paying $20 million for the opportunity. After six weeks of intensive training with the Russian Space Agency, on April 30, 2001 Tito embarked on a week's vacation to tour the International Space Station. By the end of the week many of the people who viewed that historical event deemed his trek a success.
These efforts could spark the beginning of an age of adventure tourism, or tourism that involves an element of risk or perceived risk. Space tourism, a segment of adventure tourism, includes suborbital travel, or flights to the edge of Earth's atmosphere; trips to low Earth orbit (LEO), in which satellites orbit Earth at an altitude of 320 to 800 kilometers (200 to 500 miles); and vacations at an orbiting or lunar hotel/resort.
Currently, one form of space tourism exists. From an airfield in Moscow, tourists are paying $12,000, excluding travel and lodging costs, for a "Journey to the Edge of Space." These adventurers experience a 45-to 60-minute ride to the edge of Earth's atmosphere in a MiG-25 aircraft flying at Mach 2.5, or a mile every 2 seconds, and reaching an altitude of 25 kilometers (82,000 feet). Passengers are able to view the curvature of Earth and a horizon that is 1,100 kilometers (715 miles) across. According to Time International, almost 4,500 adventurers have made the trip. After taking one of these flights with Space Adventures Ltd., Wally Funk, a former astronaut and pilot, said that the flight was his most thrilling experience.
The next step in suborbital travel is a 30-to 150-minute trip that will take tourists to an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles). After four days of training at a cost of $98,000, "extreme tourists" will be launched just short of orbit, where "space" technically begins. When the launch vehicle approaches its maximum altitude, the rocket engines will shut down and the adventurers will experience 5 minutes of uninterrupted weightlessness. Space Adventures Ltd. has accepted 144 reservations, paid in advance, for a venture that has not yet flown its maiden voyage. The companies offering these trips had plans to take people up to 100 kilometers (62 miles) in 2001. However, those plans have been delayed until technology can be developed that is safe for the civilian public. Enthusiasts expect to be hurled into space between 2003 and 2005.
The obstacle that stands in the way of suborbital spaceflight is the construction of a reusable launch vehicle (RLV) that is reliable enough to take tourists to the perimeter of space and satisfy the safety standards and regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration. This is the reason current space tourism ventures are taking place in Russia, where the government does not regulate aviation as tightly.
The challenge in creating such a vehicle is more financial than technical. The successful manufacture of an RLV that could reduce launch costs by 90 percent of the current price per pound is necessary to make routine suborbital passenger flights financially feasible.
Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
The construction of a reliable RLV for suborbital travel will aid the expansion of space tourism by making available a vehicle that can be adapted for travel to LEO. This RLV, used to transport passengers into LEO, will need to have more propulsion than suborbital RLVs to achieve orbit. Another challenge will be to create enough room for approximately 50 to 100 passengers so that the venture will be economically feasible.
When a satellite is in LEO, it is traveling at 27,200 kilometers (17,000 miles) per hour and circles Earth in approximately 90 minutes. If a LEO RLV were to take travelers one or two times around Earth before landing, passengers would stay in the RLV for 1.5 to 3 hours. During this time it is likely that passengers will need to use the rest room or eat a snack, as in an airplane. Therefore, space tourism companies offering these rides will have to provide amenities that are functional in a zero-gravity environment, such as the candy and peanuts astronauts eat in space.
Currently, orbital spaceflight is available to those who are willing to pay the price. For approximately $20 million it is possible for a private voyager to fly to the International Space Station. Individuals interested in this once-in-a-lifetime experience must be willing to undergo the rigorous training program required for civilian astronauts in Russia. After medical testing to assure readiness to fly, explorers will be flown to an altitude of 24,390 meters (80,000 feet), where they will experience zero gravity at a speed of Mach 2.5. They also will discover what it is like to experience 5 Gs* when they reenter Earth's atmosphere, take a space walk in the neutral-buoyancy training pool, and learn about the Soyuz spacecraft by using the cosmonaut simulator. After four to six months of training and preparation, private citizens will be given a chance to spend a week exploring the International Space Station.
Proposed Orbital and Lunar Hotels.
The ultimate goal for space enthusiasts is the construction of the first space hotel/resort. A number of organizations are working on space station designs for commercial purposes. It is known that an orbiting space hotel can be created. The challenge lies in the economics of the project.
There has been a significant amount of discussion among space entrepreneurs of ventures such as luxury cruise ships, orbiting hotels, and lunar hotels. The Space Tourism Society in Santa Monica, California, has plans for an "orbital yacht" featuring balloon-like rooms that would allow travelers to see Earth clearly. Passengers also would be able to enjoy activities such as dancing and sports and take a sauna while orbiting in space.
Robert Bigelow, owner of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, has different plans. He has devoted $500 million to the research, design, and development of a space hotel by the year 2005. One Bigelow model contains two rotating modules in a microgravity environment similar to that of the International Space Station. One module would be used as living quarters for the passengers and crew. This section of the station would contain sleeping, cooking, showering, and rest room areas. The other module would house research laboratories. Bigelow visualizes a more spacious model than the International Space Station to create the most comfortable habitat possible for space tourists.
The Space Island Group has proposed a formation similar to a revolving bicycle wheel. The revolving motion will create an atmosphere with one-third Earth's gravity within modified shuttle fuel tanks. This amount of gravity will allow running water and a semi-normal eating, sleeping, and walking experience. For recreational purposes, passengers will be able to experience a genuine zero-gravity environment inside the station's hub. They will see cameras' views of Earth on a screen. The goal of the Space Island Group, Budget Suites, the Space Tourism Society, and many other entrepreneurial space tourism organizations is to create the ultimate tourist experience for those who can afford the voyage.
It will be interesting to watch the path space tourism takes and see how the public reacts to it. A 1997 National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) study showed that one-third of Americans would be interested in taking a space voyage. Currently, many adventurers are ready to pay $60,000 to climb Mount Everest, dive to the Titanic, or travel to Antarctica. Although there is perceived danger in all these adventures, the companies that offer them are able to make a profit. However, there is great uncertainty about space tourism. This perception will not be altered until a greater number of extreme tourists have experienced and enjoyed a safe and reliable space adventure. The current era of space tourism can be compared to the early twentieth century, when the public saw the concept of airplane travel as absurd.
The key to the development of space tourism is its financial feasibility. Although one man has paid $20 million to visit the International Space Station, it is unlikely that many people could or would spend that kind of money. Perhaps $60,000, the equivalent of the price to climb Mount Everest, will be the "affordable ticket price" that creates a market for space tourism. As Buzz Aldrin stated, "Adventure travel will force us to improve the reliability of our launch vehicles, help to establish economic life-support systems for a large number of people, and give us experience with creating space habitats. All of these things are strong building blocks for exploration."
see also Civilians in Space (volume 3); Hotels (volume 4); Tourism (volume 1).
Amy Swint and Clinton L. Rappole
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*A person subjected to 5 Gs would feel as if she or he weighed five times as much as normal.
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