Space travel has always fascinated me since childhood. Before the concept of space tourism, I would often pay close attention to anything that came on the TV with any mention of space. Growing up in the early eighties, I was lucky to be able to watch many of the NASA space shuttle launches live on TV news alerts. However, the real fascination came on my family holiday to Florida when I was able to visit NASA Cape Canaveral, have a tour of the space facilities, and watch the space shuttle Endeavour launch on May 7th 1992 (NASA, 2019a).
Fast forward twenty seven years later and my fascination still persists, but now the concept of space tourism is much alive and has given things a much added positive twist. According to the Cambridge online dictionary space tourism is be defined as “The activity of travelling into space for pleasure and interest, rather than as a job” (Cambridge Online, 2019). Three key players are leading the development of space tourism; Virgin Galactic led by Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic, 2019a), SpaceX led by Elon Musk (SpaceX 2019a) and Blue Origin led by Geoff Bezos (Blue Origin, 2019a).
Space tourism gives me much to be hopeful about as it could possibly offer the chance for us to visit the boundary of space within our lifetime for an affordable price. Many friends, work colleagues and students are more sceptical about space tourism and some even feel that it is still science fiction. I personally feel so excited about space tourism I decided to do interactive workshops (Darren’s Digital Workshop, 2019) for classes at the Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences DigiDay events in 2017 and 2018. The workshops included an overview of the current trends developing in space tourism and the companies pioneering the technology. Both workshops were well received and the classes were full but I could not help wonder why space tourism is not taken seriously in the tourism degree program studies.
Why study space tourism?
In early Spring 2019 Annette Toivonen visited Porvoo campus and presented her research paper about sustainable planning for space tourism (Toivonen, 2017, 21-34). In Annette’s research paper, she developed a framework model to assist in foreseeing the likely implications of human actions in space tourism. This framework is called the Sustainable Future Planning Framework (figure 1).
Figure 1. Sustainable Future Planning Framework (Toivonen 2017, 27).
Once again, the research presented by Annette Toivonen was extremely fascinating and helped reaffirm my belief that there is a place for incorporating the topic of space tourism into the curriculum for tourism degree programs. The Sustainable Future Planning Framework is an ideal concept that is very relevant to modern tourism curriculum course, as it introduces the important topic of sustainability, which is a very relevant topic popping up in many aspects in the study tourism studies. The Sustainable Future Planning Framework also introduces the concept space tourism, which is an area over the coming years will significantly develop and become more relevant to tourism studies.
The competition between these three companies is extremely fierce as they are all aiming to be the first in offering a commercial space tourism service to the general public but at a considerable high cost that is far beyond the average person’s lifetime savings. Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Blue Origin all share the same vision to reduce the costs of their space tourism service once operational, so tickets can become more affordable to the average person. If all three manage to succeed in their objectives, the reality of space tourism will very much become reality for those that can afford it. As of 2019 Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Blue Origin still don’t have the relevant safety certificates and licenses to offer space tourism services to the public.
On December 13, 2018 Virgin Galactic managed to successfully test its SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity (Virgin Galactic 2019b) which was recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and NASA Flight Opportunities Program as officially reaching outer space by US standards. The U.S. Department of Transportation also awarded Astronaut Wings to the two Virgin Galactic pilots after the December 13, 2018 test from Mojave Air and Space Port CA. SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity reached Mach 2.5 supersonic and re-entry into the atmosphere, so currently has the upper edge to its main rivals at the time of writing this article. Virgin Galactic owner Richard Branson on the 24th January 2019 in a CBS This Morning interview stated that he expects to fly in space around the middle of 2019 (SpaceNews 2019).
SpaceX aim to have its first private space passenger fly to the moon in 2023 called Yusaku Maezawa (SpaceX 2019b) aboard the Space rocket called Super Heavy which is starting to undergo test trials this year. Blue Origin have plan to use self-landing reusable rockets called New Shepard of which there have been four successful flight tests as of January 23rd 2019 (Blue Origin 2019b) and aims to start selling commercial tickets near the end of 2019 (Wired 2019).
Although a ticket to the stars is still not an option for many right now it is fast becoming a step closer to reality each year. At some stage in the future, possibly within the next few years, the tourism sector will have to start accepting they have a complete new competitor in the market, although it will only be a service for the rich and wealthy at the beginning. Over time the costs will likely reduce to such an extent that it allows the average middle-income earner to purchase a ticket, possibly by at least 2030. Therefore, those students in tourism who have some knowledge of space tourism will increase their chances of finding employment in in a sector that is fast growing and becoming a reality.
Blue Origin 2019a. About. URL: https://www.blueorigin.com/our-mission. Accessed: 15th March 2019
Blue Origin 2019b. Latest updates. URL: https://www.blueorigin.com/news/new-shepardsuccessfully-flies-8-nasa-research-and-technology-payloads-to-space. Accessed: 16th March 2019.
Cambridge.org 2019, Dictionary. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/space-tourism. Accessed: 15th March 2019
Darren’s Digital Workshop 2019, Space Tourism. URL: https://igwl.weebly.com/darrens-digitalworkshop.html. Accessed: 15th March 2019.
NASA 2019a. Mission Archives. URL: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/shuttlemissions/archives/sts-49.html. Accessed: 15th March 2019
SpaceNews 2019. URL: https://www.space.com/43113-richard-branson-virgin-galacticcommercial-flights-2019.html. Accessed: 16th March 2019.
SpaceX 2019a. About. URL: https://www.spacex.com/about. Accessed: 15th March 2019
SpaceX 2019b. News. URL: https://www.spacex.com/news/2018/10/09/first-passenger-lunar-bfrmission. Accessed: 16th March 2019.
Toivonen, A. 2017. Sustainable planning for space tourism. Matkailututkimus, 13 (1-2), pp. 21-34.
Virgin Galactic 2019a. Who we are. URL: https://www.virgingalactic.com/who-we-are/. Accessed: 15th March 2019
Virgin Galactic 2019b. News. URL: https://www.virgingalactic.com/articles/first-space-flight. Accessed: 16th March 2019.
Wired 2019. URL: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/spacex-blue-origin-space-tourism. Accessed: 16th March 2019.