Is space tourism the need of the hour?
“The best proof that there is intelligent life in space is the fact that it hasn’t come here.” – Arthur C. Clarke
Billionaire Richard Branson and five others flew at an altitude of 86.1 km (53.8 miles) in Virgin Galactic’s VSS-Unity on Sunday July 11, 2021 and landed safely on the runway at Spaceport America at New Mexico, United States.
After landing, Branson said, “I have dreamed of this moment since I was a child, and honestly, nothing could prepare you to see Earth from space.” While he didn’t plan to fly specifically on this test flight, billionaire Jeff Bezos’ announcement of his intention to fly on his Blue Origin airline’s first passenger flight on July 20, 2021, prompted Branson to change his plans and fly 11 to become the first in the race of “billionaire space company founders to get on his own spaceship”.
Since NASA declared that 50 miles above the earth’s surface is considered “space,” Branson and the group have called themselves “astronauts” although they have only experienced weightlessness for about five minutes before coming back to earth.
Of course, he was able to market the event in typical Branson style with lots of glitz and glamor, even advertising the Range Rover Astronaut and Land Rover Defender edition, even towing the space vehicle while it ‘he was cycling to the launch site himself. Virgin Galactic is selling tickets for future space trips US $ 250,000 per person. Sources say there are over 600 bookings and around 350 paying customers lining up to experience the trip in 2022. Although Branson took three of his employees with him on the trip, Bezos took his brother Mark, Aviator Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen from the Netherlands, a fare-paying passenger, making Ms. Funk the oldest and Mr. Daemen the youngest to go into space.
SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by billionaire Elon Musk is the first private company to commercialize space travel already holding more than 60% of the global share of commercial launch contracts from NASA, the US Air Force and several others governments of different countries around the world to put their satellites into orbit, transport supplies and even do crew exchanges for the International Space Station (ISS).
Since the ISS flies at an altitude of 260 miles and the low earth orbit (LEO) for satellites is in the altitude range of 100 miles to 1,200 miles, making the trip there with a rocket Reusable is a different ball game to hit the lower limit of space at an altitude of 50 miles. Therefore, SpaceX, by partnering with NASA and Axiom Space, a space tourism introductory company co-founded by a few former NASA employees, plans to take its first two or three paying customers into the space for a week-long stay in the ISS for just $ 55 million per person.
The US government agency for space exploration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is, of course, a willing business partner throughout this process, even partially funding SpaceX in its efforts to build the reusable rocket. who can make the trip to the ISS and back.
After ending the space shuttle program in 2011, NASA had to pay Russia to take American astronauts to the ISS and as a result the public-private partnership with companies such as SpaceX turned out to be a best alternative for them too. Axiom Space plans to have its own space station “Axiom Station” from 2024 as an extension of the ISS and to detach to operate on its own as a private space station from 2028, making it the ultimate space vacation destination.
China, not being a partner of the ISS consortium made up of the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada, launched the first part of its own “Tiangong” space station in 2011 and the following one in 2016 with plans to complete the station in 2022 They sent a crew of three astronauts last month on a three-month mission to commission the station’s third module so that they could accommodate other international partners.
Most Western media covered much more of the Branson and Bezos space travel which filled the airwaves, the web and the newspapers than the fires in North America and Siberia and the historic floods in European countries and India, giving the impression that most of the important events in the world were these merry-go-rounds by billionaires.
Only a handful of news agencies have mentioned the Chinese space station, and even fewer reports have focused on the extent of the damage done to our planet’s environment through each of these space trips. No private company, be it SpaceX, Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin, can enter the space travel industry without the support of NASA and / or other relevant state agencies in countries.
Taxpayers should definitely be concerned about what kind of benefits they would get from all this space travel and space colonization. The world is still trying to recover from all the different types of colonization that it has experienced so far, and a majority are still victims of economic colonization.
Branson said his intention is to make space accessible to everyone, and seeing Earth from space without any boundaries can be a life-changing experience. He said he wanted to make the dream of space travel a reality for his grandchildren and many more in the future. What he probably didn’t realize is that China has started building a separate space station since the US-led ISS consortium refused to accept China as a partner in the space exploration.
China is also unlikely to include the United States in any of its collaborations with other space agencies. If one has to go to space to understand the gravity of fighting for boundaries and not seeing Earth as the home of all life on the planet, then it will probably take a lot more than five minutes of weightlessness to help such a person to further develop their thinking. In addition, at the rate we pollute the planet, there will not be much time and resources left for his grandchildren and future generations to enjoy the benefits of his space travel, if there are any.
Another statement from some of these space companies is that any scientific breakthroughs they can make through all the experiments they can perform in microgravity will help solve problems on Earth. Perhaps such scientific progress can then conclude that gravity is the main cause of problems such as wars, pandemics, deforestation, landslides, floods, hurricanes, poverty, hunger, l disproportionate allocation and use of resources on Earth, the tyranny of the selfish. politics, terrorism and the violation of human rights, among others.
Before starting to search for answers in space, it may be helpful to think a bit about what Jiddu Krishnamurti tried to convey when he said: “The freedom to desire an answer is essential to understanding ‘a problem. “
The writer worked in the higher education sector as an academic for twenty years in the United States and fourteen years in Sri Lanka. He can be contacted at [email protected]