Just recently, news was released that the New Mexico state legislature has new plans for Spaceport America, the United States’ first commercial spaceport. What was intended to be the site for numerous commercial flights to space might soon be on sale.
New Mexico Senator, George K. Muñoz, stated that when the plans of the new spaceport were being put into place, several commented that the supporters will come once the infrastructure was completed. However, it has been several years has since passed, and according to Muñoz, “nobody’s shown up yet.” The $250 million-structure, which opened in 2011, is still not in full operation and is now costing more taxpayer dollars for its upkeep.
Does this mean then that this dream of commercial space travel and space tourism is not yet ripe for the picking? As of today, several private companies have ventured or are trying to venture into space tourism. However, only one company, Space Adventures, Ltd., has successfully sent “tourists” to space – and each visitor had to pay over $20 million for the ride to the International Space Station, making the immediate space tourism scene a market for only the extremely wealthy.
However, several of these private ventures, like XCOR and Virgin Galactic, aim to provide more “affordable” seats for the average person, with premium prices of over $200,000 per ticket. These seats, in comparison to Space Adventures’, will take their customers on suborbital trips, which will be a lot shorter than the 10-day trip to the ISS, but will still provide them with the opportunity to experience zero gravity and the view of space from beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
Apparently, hundreds of tickets have already been sold, and several partnerships between different organizations have been forged, but none have “taken off.”
Virgin Galactic plans to launch a fleet of five spacecraft or spaceplanes, as they are called. The first of these SpaceShipTwo planes, the VSS Enterprise, was tested last year, but crashed into the Mojave Desert, killing one of its two pilots.
This may have caused a delay in the timeline for the flights, as well as a possible wavering in the public’s interest in the space tourism industry. This may have also been a major factor in NM’s bill of selling the spaceport, whose main tenant was supposed to be Virgin Galactic.
Yet, other big names in business still hope to make it big in the industry. Boeing is building a spacecraft that they plan to use for tourists. Excalibur Almaz plans to promote private expeditions to places beyond the ISS, and some companies, like Bigelow Aerospace and Space Island Group, also hope to open hotels in outer space.
There is no doubt that entrepreneurs feel that this will be a profitable venture and that the industry will, once it’s begun, boom. At the same time, with these unexpected hurdles and setbacks occurring, we can’t help but ask questions: Is the dream of travelling to outer space limited to astronauts and cosmonauts in this decade? Will this feat take longer than initially planned?
This may be a thought reflected in several of our minds, but the fact remains that we have started taking steps, and even if our generation may not see the fulfillment of this dream, it is reassuring to know that future generations will be able to do so.