Last week, Blue Origin, the aerospace company founded and owned by Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com, announced that it would launch its first passenger flight on July 20. Bezos will be one of the three passengers on board this first crewed flight. His brother and another person (identity unknown) who has bid $28 million in an auction for a place in this historic flight will be his co-passengers.
Space tourism is about humans travelling into space for recreational purposes. The first space tourist was US millionaire Dennis Tito, who in 2001 paid $20 million to hitch a ride on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to visit the international space station and spent eight days there.
So, if this is not the first time, why is Blue Origin making the news? Well this is the first time that space tourism will be attempted by a private company. This apart, after Tito, there were only seven other private citizens who travelled to space until 2009 when the Russian space agency wound up the business of selling tickets to private citizens.
Three private companies – Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX — are now spearheading the human endeavour to explore space. Their progress will decide whether space travel will one day become as accessible as air travel.
The upcoming flight on July 20 will be the first step in making space more accessible to humans. These are early stages for the space tourism industry offering only sub-orbital flights (flights cannot complete an orbit around earth) and will give an experience of only a few minutes in space.
Eventually, the hope is that, anyone who can afford the trip can go to space with just a day’s training for a Blue Origin trip and three days of training for Virgin Galactic trip. Right now, only super rich may attempt it. The tickets are expected to be priced in the range of $200,000-300,000 for space trips from Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic. But the demand far exceeds supply.
A survey by research firm Cowen found that around 40 per cent of people with a net worth of more than $5 million are interested in paying at least $250,000 for a Virgin Galactic flight. It estimates a market of 2.4 million people for such flights. While Blue Origin is yet to open bookings, Virgin Galactic has already sold 600 tickets, which is multiple times its expected annual capacity in initial years of launch. At the end of last year analysts were expecting Virgin Galactic to carry 150 passengers into space 2021, which is now pushed into 2022 .
We in India must accelerate our progress in this field. While space tourism might seem a needless indulgence, the concept may not just be recreational. It can provide a base for testing super-sonic travel between different destinations on earth, significantly compressing travel time. Besides, it heralds the entry of the private sector into this arena. Blue Origin was founded in 2000, SpaceX in 2002, Virgin Galactic in 2004. It’s taken these companies nearly two decades and substantial funding and effort to come this far. While the Indian government last year announced a policy to open space exploration to the private sector, there has not been much follow up. It is imperative, we get a strong foothold in space. ISRO alone cannot do the job.
Also if you are a HNI who can afford the trip and crazy about going to space, this matters all the more to you.
Space tourism may seem like an outlandish concept today. But don’t forget air travel for leisure was considered equally improbable a little more than a century ago.
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