Space tourism industry is ‘really in the midst of a transformation’: expert
George Nield, President of Commercial Space Technologies, LLC, speaks with Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the prospects for commercial space travel, the upcoming Blue Origin spaceflight, and the benefits of private companies investing in the science behind spaceflight.
RACHELLE AKUFFO: Joining us now is Dr. George Nield, President of Commercial Space Technologies LLC. I mean, it’s an amazing opportunity. Tell us about preparing for this and what you think about it.
GEORGES NIELD: I am very excited. It’s such a fantastic time for the space industry. I think we’re really in a major transformation from a time when almost everything that happened in space was done by governments to now, where private industry is playing an extremely important role. And it will continue to move forward.
DAVE BRIGGS: How far are we, Doctor, from a viable commercial space tourism industry in your opinion?
GEORGES NIELD: Well, I would just say that we already have two companies flying. It’s interesting to note that previously, in the United States, we only did one program at a time: Project Mercury, Gemini, the Apollo moon landing, the shuttle, etc. Today, six different American companies design, build, test and fly vehicles intended to carry humans on board. This therefore includes SpaceX, Boeing, Sierra Space, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin. And I’m sure we’ll see more of that in the future.
Brad Smith: Doctor, what do you think will be the tipping point to make it affordable for anyone who chooses to take advantage of a spaceflight opportunity?
GEORGES NIELD: Well, as you know, these tickets are expensive today, but I think that more and more flights are taking place, more and more companies, more and more vehicles, it is almost certain that the price will go down. I think a lot of people feel that by the time the price of an expensive car or motorhome hits, you’ll see a lot of people who can experience it for themselves. And that will be a very good thing for the industry.
RACHELLE AKUFFO: So for now, at least, since it’s out of reach for some people when it comes to being able to afford it, it’s a very interesting group that has been selected, including the singer of “Saturday Night Live” Pete Davidson. Talk a bit about who you’re traveling with and how many interactions you have even before this flight.
GEORGES NIELD: So there will actually be six different people on this particular mission. So you mentioned Pete Davidson. He will fly as a guest on board. And the rest of us are paying customers. And everyone has a strong interest in space and very different backgrounds. We spoke several times virtually. And I can’t wait to see and get to know everyone else face to face when we head to West Texas in just a few days.
DAVE BRIGGS: But doc, Captain Kirk flew on the first flight, NFL Hall of Famer Michael Strahan on the second. I’m sure you’re thrilled to have comic relief aboard Origin. But if there’s one celebrity you want to be with, who is it? Come on, be honest with us.
GEORGES NIELD: I think we have a great team and I can’t wait to interact. We are all going to have different perspectives, but it will be an exciting adventure.
Brad Smith: When you think of all the opportunities that come with being able to study life in space or even just what the human body is, what is that reaction, even for a brief spaceflight, is there things that you will monitor your own vital signs when you go up in space?
GEORGES NIELD: Well, I think these flights right now are mostly for the experience. So I’m really looking forward to being able to look out the window and see the dark sky and the curvature of the Earth and experience that magic of weightlessness. So it will just be the experience.
But I think as commercial spaceflight continues to grow, we’re going to see private industry play a big role in all the different types of spaceflight for scientific research and exploration and so on. And they bring a lot of advantages over the mere presence of governments. We’re going to see lower costs, increased innovation, probably greater risk tolerance, new customers, new products, new markets, and new sources of finance and investment.
RACHELLE AKUFFO: So one of the things that also comes up when it comes to a lot of that space travel is maybe the footprint that it might leave on the environment. What do you think about this? And what is really being done to offset some of that?
GEORGES NIELD: So it’s a very important question. Blue Origin in their new Shepard rocket, of course, only uses oxygen and hydrogen. And so what you get is just water vapor. So there are no worries there. But I think the most important opportunity is to recognize that by using space vehicles, satellites and those that carry people on board, we’re going to be able to get so much information about what’s going on the Earth that we just haven’t been able to do in the past.
We now have these mega constellations of little satellites that allow people to look down on Earth and see what’s going on every day. And so that’s really going to help us understand where the problems are, where the problems are, where the opportunities are to help the Earth in the future.
Brad Smith: And even eliminating some of the pre-flight concerns you might have, were you able to speak to any of those who traveled before you on these all-civilian flights? Have you been able to speak to Jeff Bezos?
GEORGES NIELD: So in my previous jobs, including heading the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, I was able to meet Mr. Bezos and many others in the industry. And of course I spent a number of years at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where there are a lot of astronauts training and working on the shuttle program and the Space Station program and so on. right now. So I have an idea of what it’s all about, but it’s going to be really exciting to experience it firsthand.
RACHELLE AKUFFO: Well, we will support you as you head to the final frontier there. Thank you very much for joining us today, Dr. George Nield, President of Commercial Space Technologies LLC. Thank you so much.