Could space be a future holiday destination?qimono,

For a lot of people, the concept of spaceflight can bring out an almost childlike fascination hidden deep within them. It is astonishing that even when so many questions about our own planet are yet to be answered, we are able to strap humans to the end of a controlled explosion and propel them into the deep abyss that is space (and safely bring them back). Astronauts are certainly not immune to the magnitude of this experience, and are known to be affected by something called the “overview effect”, which encompasses the “overwhelming emotion” that they may feel by peering down upon Earth from outer space.

“It is astonishing that we are able to strap humans to the end of a controlled explosion and propel them into the deep abyss that is space”

For decades, this experience has been limited to a select few individuals who were lucky (or unlucky, depending on your personal opinion) enough to be chosen as astronauts. But now, this might be set to change. Commercial spaceflight, which once seemed to be decades away, is very much a reality now. Private firms have been long involved in the development of spacecraft, but these were government-commissioned. This progressed to the use of private spacecraft as a means of a private space cargo transportation service, shown by companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Now, we have private spaceflight not only being used for cargo, but for space tourism too, shown by the test launches of spacecraft from Blue Origin (founded by Jeff Bezos) and Virgin Galactic (founded by Richard Branson). But is this a good idea? Should space be opened up to the masses?

There are undoubtedly many individuals across the globe who dream of going to space, myself included, and who would seize any opportunity of being able to do so. Only around 600 people have travelled to space, and to get there, most have had to undertake arduous and extremely competitive government-run astronaut training programmes with strict health requirements. Commercial spaceflight could enable individuals to pop to space much like a holiday, albeit maybe for not as long. Individuals with health conditions that would usually preclude them from astronaut training, such as asthma, might have the opportunity to enjoy space on an equal footing to their peers.

Science would also greatly benefit from commercial space travel. Research in space has primarily been conducted by qualified astronauts, who may spend a lot of time aboard the International Space Station (ISS), for instance, to conduct their experiments. Thousands of experiments in the ISS have been conducted to date, often focusing on the impact of a lack of gravity on the natural and physical world. With commercial spaceflight, the requirement for training a limited number of astronauts to conduct research would no longer pose an issue. Shorter experiments could be conducted by scientists travelling briefly on commercial spaceflights, enabling a greater volume of research to be conducted. If commercial spaceflight extends to different planets, research missions could follow suit.

“Commercial spaceflight could enable individuals to pop to space much like a holiday”

The space age arguably peaked in the middle of the last century, with the wildly successful space programmes of the US and the USSR putting humans in orbit and then on the Moon. Since then, governmental funding for space travel has diminished, despite there being so much yet to discover. The introduction of commercial spaceflight could enable research organisations to conduct their own studies in space without having to depend upon government-run spaceflights.

On the flip side, it is unsurprising that people may be hesitant about commercial spaceflight. For one, space is dangerous; it is unforgiving, with one false step leading to potential catastrophe. It is very demanding on the human body, which justifies the stringent health and fitness requirements set out by training programmes. If someone becomes unwell in space, there is not much that can be done for them. There are also concerns regarding the increased accumulation of space debris, which can pose a significant threat. Tens of thousands of large debris fragments from previous space missions are already circling the Earth, which could potentially damage spacecraft and the ISS, and so regulation of any further spacecraft launches is key.

Pollution in the form of space debris is not the only concern with spaceflight; closer to home, the launching of spacecraft is polluting in itself. Rocket fuel often uses liquid hydrogen, and so the resultant exhaust fumes are usually made of clean water vapour. However, getting the hydrogen in the first place can be polluting, often requiring fossil fuels. At a time when the focus is so heavily on protecting the environment, it could be argued that launching more rockets is less than ideal.


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Finally, although commercial spaceflight may increase the possibility of civilians going to space, it doesn’t necessarily make it more feasible for the masses. Ticket prices for space tourism are sky-high, with a seat on a spaceflight from Virgin Galactic costing $450,000 – not exactly spare change for an average family. With wealth disparities ever evident, especially after the financial strain imposed upon people by the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing billionaires shoot off to space, and even thanking employees and customers for “paying” for the experience, can draw a fair bit of criticism.

So, commercial spaceflight is definitely a contentious issue, but it could also drastically improve our knowledge of how the world, and even the universe, works. We’re still likely several decades away from seeing humans land on different planets, but commercial spaceflight might get us there just a few years sooner.