Space tourism may be taking off, but critics aren’t convinced of its goals

A handful of billionaire-backed companies are proving that space tourism could be part of our future, but some critics say those resources would be better directed toward solving the problems we face on Earth today.

“We need some of the greatest brains and minds in the world committed to trying to fix this planet, not trying to find the next place to live,” as Prince William said this week, summing up an attitude low praise among critics watching the tourism-driven space race of our time unfold.

Since the summer, space tourism companies have been taking passengers on brief trips above Earth and garnering a lot of attention for it, in part because of the people they’ve taken with them.

Rivals ride rockets in the same month

Billionaire Jeff Bezos went into space in July, along with three other passengers, on a Blue Origin spacecraft. The company sent four more people into space last Wednesday, including William Shatner, best known for playing star trekis Captain James Kirk.

“What you gave me is the deepest experience,” Shatner told Bezos after his space trip.

And yet, for all the coverage Bezos received, he wasn’t even the first billionaire to go into space this year – Richard Branson got there first, on a Virgin Galactic flight that carried six passengers, nine days ahead of its competitors Blue Origin.

“The whole thing was just magic,” Branson said after the flight.

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity is seen descending after reaching the edge of space on July 11, 2011. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)

And the planet?

But not everyone applauds. Ryan Katz-Rosene, associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Political Studies, said these recent space tourism efforts and the competition to claim success are “completely deaf to the realities of sustainability challenges. “facing the planet. .

“I don’t think we should be putting so much focus, effort, attention and money into private space travel,” he said.

Still, Philip Metzger, a planetary physicist at the University of Central Florida, says this kind of space tourism could end up providing support for domestic issues. Astronauts and others often say that the experience of seeing Earth from above left them with a renewed appreciation for environmentalism.

Metzger predicts that more people seeing the Earth from above will lead to greater mobilization of “resources and talents to protect the Earth.”

WATCH | When Shatner actually went to space:

The science behind William Shatner’s space travel

CBC’s Quirks and Quarks host Bob McDonald talks to Andrew Chang about what William Shatner went through on his brief trip to space.

Possible advantages

Chris Hadfield, the retired Canadian astronaut, sees what Prince William and like-minded critics mean – acknowledging there is some justification for their concerns about problems on Earth.

But he said the exploration push is what inspires the discovery of new ideas and technologies – including some of the satellite tools we now use to measure and observe parts of our planet and the problems it faces. .

“This technology doesn’t appear instantly,” Hadfield said. “You have to inspire people, they have to develop it.”

As for the future of a wider world of space travel, Hadfield said “it opens up so many opportunities and I think that’s the part worth focusing on.”

Chris Hadfield is shown after landing on Earth, via a Soyuz space capsule, in central Kazakhstan in May 2013. (Mikhail Metzel/Reuters)

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