Like many Americans, I once thought it would be a pretty cool idea to spend more than a few years traveling into space and taking photos of Earth and space. But I was naive, and as I grew up and began studying the space industry, I decided that the risks and economics required to take a year off work and spend countless hours and thousands of dollars to fly to low-Earth orbit would not leave me anywhere near as wealthy and happy as the astronauts.
This began a years-long, and ultimately futile, struggle to understand why anyone would want to go into space, except possibly celebrities. But eventually, I came to embrace the idea, and I have proudly contributed to research that explains the economics behind space tourism.
This research affirms the conclusions of many previously published reports, but it also includes a new angle from the perspective of two of the largest financiers in the United States. Bill Gates, the wealthiest man in the world, and Jeff Bezos, the third-richest man, a billionaire, have both endorsed the idea of space tourism. And it’s for a reason.
Mr. Gates said it was “a great example of a good use of NASA’s funding.”
Mr. Bezos said that “we’re in a time where we’re going to need huge amounts of terraformed space in the future. This could be great. It could be transformative, to get down to that fraction of the habitable zone that a spacecraft could go and look.”
In this perspective, space travel provides a more efficient and cost-effective means of transporting terraformed resources into low-Earth orbit, and while paying strangers for a few years to visit low-Earth orbit is not the long-term vision Bezos and Gates envision, it could be an important step. This new perspective should be welcome news for millions of American taxpayers who have been denied space travel for years.
Although millionaires and billionaires haven’t yet taken the plunge into space tourism, they are already playing an important role in how this industry is shaping up. Tesla founder Elon Musk, who revolutionized the automotive industry, announced that he wanted to send a person to space this year. Meanwhile, most of the flight-simulators on my desk cost a fraction of what Musk and Bezos are charging and are significantly smaller than a Boeing 787, which typically costs several million dollars.
Perhaps the two billionaires are thinking that they can take what has already been created and help elevate the market, build excitement, and win customers over. In the meantime, potential customers will consider it a bargain.
What should be included in the regulations for moneyed interest in space travel?
The Space Travel Policies of the Air Transportation Commission was recently approved by the House of Representatives, and it sets out the first-of-its-kind requirements for U.S. citizens that would govern the business of renting a lifetime pass for commercial space travel. These requirements primarily prohibit other countries from offering similar policies, but also set out more extensive requirements for American citizens to avoid violating the ethics of space travel by misconduct or crimes.
The oversight that has been set up for the ethics policies was certainly reasonable. However, there is some urgency to address this legislation as commercial space travel soon could be commonplace. Perhaps a Congressional compromise could be reached after this debate.
On November 29, 2018, NASA agreed to hire an invitation-only company to provide commercial rides to the International Space Station. Only “rocket scientists with NASA’s proper education,” will be considered for positions. This sets a dangerous precedent for future space travel. It takes advantage of public taxpayers for private profit, and the same rules need to be set for the moneyed interests who are interested in doing the same.
The FAA has worked for years on developing regulations for manned space flight, however there are no similar regulations for private space travel. In fact, there is only one company that has been given permission from the government to fly the Space Launch System into low-Earth orbit. There is a nationwide transportation system operating on federal lands all across the country, and it just happens to be going to and from another world. So why are the regulations for those foreign entities, especially the newest ones, considered to be significantly different than the regulations for American citizens who are about to become part of the most innovative industries in history?