Are we ready for space travel?

Last Sunday, October 12, video game mogul Richard Garriott left for the International Space Station on a Soyuz spacecraft.  He docked the station Tuesday morning.

Garriott is the latest addition to the list of six “space tourists”, still a controversial term, whose trips were facilitated by Space Adventures.

With efforts such as Virgin Galactic and the success of SpaceShipOne getting media attention in the past few years, is it possible that space voyages will be an option for future travelers?  In light of a worldwide economic crisis, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  But it won’t stop people like Garriott and his predecessors from opting for a trip to outer space.

Like all emerging travel fads, the progress of personal spaceflight has attracted its own set of critics.  Some of the criticism is caused by the possible dangers of rockets and accusation that private space travel is for the privileged elite. Critics are also considering the environmental effects of each trip:

“A recent study by Futron predicted up to 852 flights a year out of the New Mexico spaceport. If we assume 3,000 flights a year with 6 passengers on each and 3 tonnes of emissions per passenger, the total emissions will be 54,000 tonnes a year. For comparison, this is equivalent to 5 days operation of a 500MW gas-fired power station, or 3 days of UK consumers leaving electrical items such as TVs on standby.”
Source: “Space tourism and carbon dioxide emissions” by Steven Fawkes, from The Space Review

Unless these points are properly addressed by the space tourism industry, I doubt that the world will be ready, technologically and economically, for widespread commercial suborbital tours and space station visits.  But when we reach that point, does it necessarily mean we should go ahead with it?  I’m a bit more cautious to answer that question.

Over history, we humans have proved ourselves eager to conquer new lands, claim them as their own, and at worst, completely destroy the place.  If we are to take serious steps into space tourism, we must take a more humble attitude so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes.  I believe that in this case, it’s best to adapt Gerard d’Aboville’s philosophy when he rowed across the Pacific Ocean: “I did not conquer the Pacific.  It let me go across.”

While there might not be space-faring vagabonds in the next few years, it’s still important to take the time and consider whether we are truly responsible to handle the consequences of stepping into the final frontier.  After all, it might prove to be disastrous if the time comes that the technology is ready, while the consciousness of humanity is not.

Do you think most people are ready to have space travel as a trip option?  Why or why not?

Posted by | Comments (2)  | October 16, 2008
Category: General

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