Or was it? Over the past decades the space environment has been the sole preserve of government agencies, but that’s not the case anymore. Ever since the legalisation of privatised space travel in 2004, more and more companies have shown an interest in the space.
Michael Mayor, an astrophysicist who was a corecipient of the Nobel Prize in physics, says that humans will never migrate to a planet outside of Earth’s solar system, because it would take ”hundreds of millions of days to reach these distant worlds”. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t inhabit nearby space or colonise the nearest neighboring planets such as Mars.
Boost from the private sector
In fact, the momentum for space tourism has accelerated, as the private sector is propelling it forward more vigorously and swiftly than governments alone could have ever done.
And as always, it’s all about the money. Private companies, such as Space X founded by Elon Musk, Sir Richard Branson‘s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos‘ Blue Origin, are able to implement necessary decisions and fund projects much faster than most governments can.
At the same time, several other companies from all around the world are looking at commercial spaceflights and space tourism as a future way to make money. But truth to be told, the winner in all of this is humanity itself, as the private companies are constantly changing how space exploration is conducted and how related technology is developed and implemented.
First space hotel as early as 2024?
At the moment, the main goal is to reduce the cost of access to space by reusing old launchers and spacecraft. The next step is going to be commercial space hubs and eventually a whole station made for space tourists. Earlier this year NASA picked Houston-based company Axiom Space, founded in 2016 to expand human civilisation into Earth’s orbit, to build at least one habitable private module that will be attached to the International Space Station (ISS) as early as 2024.
The new additions to the ISS will include a crew habitat that will serve as a home for future space tourists. The ISS will also have a research and manufacturing facility and a large-windowed Earth observatory. Axiom plans to launch crewed flights to the Axiom complex at a rate of about two to three flights a year. The NASA hopes that the so called “Axiom Segment” will help spur the growth of an off-Earth economy, one that will hopefully extend far beyond the ISS.
The human spirit of exploration
It’s easy to be sceptical and say our problems as a mankind are too big or too deep-rooted to ever reach the crucial next big step and push our civilisation past Earth’s lower atmosphere. But at the same time, there are still many who believe we can do it. For example, the late theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking known for his revolutionary work with black holes and general relativity, said we are, by nature, explorers. We are motivated by curiosity, which is a uniquely human quality.
Hawking believed it’s this driven curiosity that sent explorers to prove the Earth is not flat, and it is the same instinct that sends us to the stars at the speed of thought, urging us to go there in reality. And whenever we make a great new leap, such as the Moon landings, we elevate humanity, bring people and nations together, and usher in new discoveries and new technologies.
We need hope and inspiration
Haaga-Helia lecturer Darren Trofimczuk, a long-term space enthusiast and educational technology expert, shares Hawking’s beliefs. As a devoted advocate of space exploration, Trofimczuk thinks we are already witnessing the next big space race.
– I think there is a demand for this. If you think about it, from politics to climate change to economy and viruses, negativity and bad news surrounds us everywhere we go. As human beings, we need inspiration and hope, and that’s exactly what space exploration is all about, he says.
Trofimczuk compares the situation to the 25th of May, 1961. Four years after the embarrassment caused by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin being the first human in space, President John F. Kennedy made a speech about dispatching man to the Moon before the end of the decade. Eight years later they had done exactly that, as Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on the Earth’s natural satellite.
– Kennedy set very ambitious plans, and they actually did it. The Moon landing gave hope for the future and still does. Apollo was to many people nothing less than the greatest thing ever – and as we know, hope is absolutely the greatest driving force of our species, says Trofimczuk.