Space tourism: can you travel too? Here’s everything you need to know

Space tourism is like a wildest dream for many. Recently, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos exploded into space on the first flight of his rocket company Blue Origin. He is now a second billionaire to pilot his own spacecraft. The Nehru Science Center (Mumbai), in association with the Aeronautical Society of India, Mumbai Branch, organized an online conference on “Space Tourism: The Next Frontier” on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. Dr. Punita Masrani, Medical Specialist aerospace, VM Medical Center, Mumbai, in the online discussion, noted various aspects of commercial space travel in the conference.

In the online lecture, Dr. Punita explained how the concept of space tourism or commercial space travel is not new and also discussed its history from conception of idea to reality. Space tourism is space travel for recreation, leisure or business, she said. Citing the recent example, she said: “Space tourism has been in the news recently because of two American billionaires, Richard Bronsan and Jeff Bezos, who went into space as tourists using their rockets and their personal planes.

Dr Punita said NASA and the Russian Space Agency have already started taking tourists on space trips, calling the process exorbitant and rigorous. A spacecraft called Russian Soyuz took tourists every 6 months. “Space Adventures was the first agency in the field of space tourism. The agency was set up by US billionaire Richard Garriot in 1998. The agency offered negotiated rides aboard Russian Soyuz rockets, Dr Punita said. As NASA and the Russian Space Agency shut down space tourism, industrialists and entrepreneurs thought they could launch private missions so that more and more people could travel to space. This gave rise to the concept of space tourism, Dr Punita added.

Dennis Tito was the first passenger on a commercial space flight before which only astronauts traveled to space for research purposes, Dr. Punita said in his lecture. Tito went to space on the Russian Soyuz TMA launch vehicle in April 2001. Mark Shuttleworth, Greg Olsen, Anoush Ansari, Charles Simony, Richard Garriott, Guy Laliberte were others who took paid trips to space between 2002 and 2009. Private space travelers had to go through strict screening standards, extensive training and measures adopted to counter challenges, she added.

Dr. Punita also discussed in detail the various companies that work in the field of private space travel. She first discussed Blue Origin, which was created in 2000 by Amazon CEO/Founder Jeff Bezos. Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard rocket recently successfully completed its first human flight with four citizens on board. The crew included Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen. The New Shephard rocket lifted off on July 20, 2021 from West Texas, USA.

SpaceX, which is an American aerospace manufacturer, founded by Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk in 2002. The company developed the Dragon Spacecraft which was used by NASA astronauts to travel to the International Space Station. Space X also plans to send citizens to the International Space Station for a paid 10-day trip. He also plans trips to the Moon and Mars.

Dr. Punita also informed that NASA had recently cleared private citizens to the International Space Station for a short visit. Companies like Axiom Space are involved in training private astronauts. The company is also planning a private space station in the future.

Dr. Punita also presented the basic terminologies involved in space tourism like orbital flights, sub-orbital flights, low earth orbits. According to the International Aeronautical Federation, an altitude higher than 100 km above sea level, i.e. the Kármán Line, is Space. The same agency considers an altitude of 50 miles (80.47 km) as the altitude to qualify for spaceflight.

Dr. Punita also informed that the International Space Station is a modular space station in low Earth orbit (thermosphere). The station was established in 1998. It is a multinational collaborative project involving five participating space agencies: NASA (USA), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe) and CSA (Canada ).

DR. Punita, while concluding the lecture, also explained that science involves risk, awareness, concern and informed medical consent which are essential elements of tourism. She further explained the possible medical conditions after the flight and the impact of space travel on the human body and brain.

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