With space tourism a reality, will civilians travel to space? And when? | BU today

Majd Mayyasi (GRS’09, ’13), a Principal Investigator at the BU Center for Space Physics, discusses the future of civilian space travel and its impact on the study of space with BU today editor-in-chief Doug Most. She is also sharing her experience of training in suborbital flight as part of an inaugural program for scientists.

You can also find this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and other podcast platforms.

Take away food

  • Recent flights from private space travel companies Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic make civilian space travel and tourism a reality
  • The increase in civilian space travel will provide scientists, like Mayyasi, with greater opportunities to conduct experiments in space. Currently, the cost of space travel is still prohibitive
  • Space tourists may still need physical and mental training before taking a suborbital flight


Dana Ferrante: It is Question of the week, of BU today.

With space tourism now a reality, will civilians travel to space, and when? This summer, billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson each performed a suborbital flight in their respective supersonic rockets, ushering in a new era of space travel, where a ticket to space is available to anyone who can afford it. .

In this episode, Doug Most interviewed Majd Mayyasi, a senior researcher at the Center for Space Physics at Boston University, about the future of civilian space travel. Mayyasi is also sharing her experience of training in suborbital flight as part of an inaugural program for scientists.

Doug Most: Hi, Majd. Okay, let’s talk about space.

So when I read the stories about Bezos and Branson, I admit that I wondered, if I had the opportunity, would I want to go to space? Seeing Earth from above and experiencing weightlessness would be amazing, it’s not really debatable, but is it enough? What do you think? Will space tourism become a reality?

Majd Mayyasi: Well, Doug, that’s a really good question. And the one I’ve been thinking about for a long time, long before Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson made any interesting flights. About 11 years ago, scientists had the opportunity to train for suborbital flight. And the reason they were doing this was because they knew it would eventually become a reality, space tourism and space travel.

And they also wanted to involve scientists in this opportunity, so this is a project that has been in the works for a very long time. And I actually joined a group that trained scientists in these suborbital flights. And so I was fortunate enough to be a member of one of the first groups of scientists to get the train for this.

And we trained for the Virgin Galactic mod, so that’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. And since that time, you know, would I go to space if I had the chance? And the answer is most definitely yes. It’s by far one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

It is extremely engaging to talk about it with other people, especially when I do outreach to communities. And by talking to the kids about what you can do as an astronomer, or how to get them involved in astronomy, it’s super fun to tell them that you can potentially go to space someday – so it’s something that interests you – without having to. go through all the rigorous training that an astronaut would undergo [to become] a full-fledged astronaut.

And so there are a lot of cool opportunities, and I’m happy to see that starting to become more and more of a tangible reality.

More: Can you take us inside this training? How was it ? How hard was it and what were you kind of doing?

Mayyasi: It lasted about a week. It involved a lot of technical knowledge that we had to be aware of first before we embarked on any of the actual physical workouts. The physical part involved going into an altitude chamber and seeing what would happen when oxygen levels dropped to a certain level.

With a lot of tests that we had to undergo or pass, mental tests to see what our thinking ability would look like with less oxygen. Another test took place in the centrifuge – we had to go into the centrifuge, and I think this center has one of the only centrifuges designed for this type of training in the country.

We had the opportunity to experience three times the downward force of gravity, which people would experience going into space and in suborbital flight for the Virgin Galactic module. And we were also able to experience six times the force of gravity and enter our chest. And this is to simulate what we would feel when going back down during the start of the school year.

More: What did these look like? What was it like living the three times and the six times?

Mayyasi: The three times the force of gravity was a challenge; we didn’t have special suits, which a lot of fighter pilots usually wear. And they endure this kind of challenge with different times of the force of gravity and sometimes more than three.

For the needs of three, the challenge was not to pass out, because at three times the force of gravity, more blood is sought and pumped up to the head. And say you’re more likely to start seeing stars before you reach them, physically. And so there are maneuvers that you’re trying to basically activate the larger muscles in your body to constrict the blood to essentially force it to stay in the upper half of your body.

And that will help you not to faint in the end, which works, I have to say. The six times the force of gravity on GX, so getting into your chest, was really fun and I think a lot of people see that sometimes on TV. When someone has just glued to their chair and the skin on their cheek is waving back, that’s exactly what it looks like and what it looks like.

It’s quite interesting, it’s like being, it’s actually kinda calming, because your body is just pressed against that chair. And it looks like an interesting type of full body massage.

More: Almost sounds like a supersonic roller coaster?

Mayyasi: Yeah, it’s really close. The challenge is not to turn your head, as that will make you dizzy.

There are cells in your ear that are very sensitive to this kind of force, and it can make people very dizzy for a few days after the fact if they are accidentally stimulated in the wrong way. So there are challenges, restrictions, but it’s so much fun and it was so exciting to be able to train with this program.

And more interestingly, it was very, I think it was very convenient, to be able to have this opportunity to be able to go into space. And when we talk about scientists going into space, we’re not going to go around; I mean, that’s in itself, very cool, obviously. But we are also going to be able to do science. And you will be weightless or in that part where you will feel weightless for about four minutes. And so the challenges are being able to design an experiment that you can do in four minutes: design something that you can potentially debug in four minutes, if something should go wrong, figure out how to alleviate those issues because you’re going to be in microgravity.

So you’re going to fly and your pencil is going to be in one place and your notebook is in another place. So mitigating all of that if you need to debug anything is also something to keep in mind. And we’ve had training for that too.

More: Looks like you think there will be a day when civilians get the chance to travel to space? You look a little confident, how far away is that?

Mayyasi: This is an excellent question. I think it depends on the business model of these companies.

Because right now, if I understand correctly, the bill is about a quarter of a million dollars. And so it’s definitely beyond my budget, both personally and professionally. If I were to put this on a science grant to fund my project, for example, it would have to be 10 times less than that, something closer to the $ 25,000 range.

And if it gets more commercial, I would say, the prices have to be competitive and something that a person can reasonably afford to spend on a trip like this. It’s really super exciting, it’s really something unique for us today, and I think it’s really tangible. And I think it’s only a matter of time until companies get to a point where they can facilitate this kind of travel in an affordable way.

Currently, people have gone to the edge of space with this program. So just then I’m going to use the SI units here, it’s 100 kilometers, that more or less defines the edge of space. And so that’s where these spaceships went. To go beyond that, there are other factors to consider as well.

A little higher than that, you start to get into low earth orbit, where you have satellites, and how high do you want to go roughly? Are you going to start interacting with space debris? Will you perhaps start to orbit alongside a spaceship? What is the goal for this roughly? Are you going to pass by the International Space Station, say hello to the astronauts and come back?

It all depends on the application. And there are also some guidelines that I think you have to be aware of, in terms of what’s already there at different altitudes. When I had the opportunity to join this team, it was as part of a competitive process at the BU. They had offered us a seat at BU, the group that organized this, and the scientists who were ultimately chosen were from all over the United States.

And so, this only seat given to the BU was offered by the competition and I offered some experience that I could do at this altitude. I also have a young child and when I told him about it he said, “No you should never go to space, it’s too scary, it’s too risky” and so on.

But the same goes for driving in a car and on a plane, right? These are all risky things. I would most definitely go, because it’s so exciting. And because, for me, as a scientist, it offers a lot of opportunities that are not accessible by other means.

This altitude of 100 kilometers is not easily accessible by many other methods; I mean, maybe there are sounding rockets that can go that high. And you may be able to look at this region from spacecraft that are higher up, but to be physically there, in situ, and being able to experience yourselves at that altitude, I think, is a remarkable opportunity, and I would take it without hesitation.

Ferrante: Thanks to Majd Mayyasi for joining us on Question of the week.

If you liked the show, be sure to rate, share, and rate us on the podcast app of your choice. I am Dana Ferrante; See you next week.

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