Space: The future of tourism?

Published October 22, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Manila Bulletin

When William Shatner finally got to fly to space aboard one of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rockets on Oct. 14, 2021, he didn’t just become the oldest human being to have ever done so (at 90 years old), he also helped bring the future of space tourism closer to reality.

Just this year, a number of spaceflight or aeronautics companies have started testing their respective rockets and spaceships — because that’s what they really are, ships that fly into space or near-Earth orbit — with actual humans onboard. While this isn’t the first time a human being has flown into space, this is the first time ordinary persons, meaning not technically trained astronauts, have flown into space. It might be difficult to imagine how this is an exciting moment, with most of the world still mired by the ongoing pandemic. But it really is.

Space, as that iconic line from Shatner’s character in “Star Trek” would say, is “the final frontier.” In the case of the world today, it really is, not just in terms of space tourism but also in terms of defense and security, with countries racing for control over that darkness. A spirit of cooperation does, indeed, exist but each of the capable countries have their own agenda for making headway into space.

But that isn’t our topic today. For now, we’re focused on the potential of space for a new kind of tourism, one that those who could afford it would definitely go for. It’s not that space tourism is expensive but it is certainly not cheap. Efforts by the various key players in the still-blooming industry, however, have made it cheaper than it was back in the days when only the US and Russia (and later China) could send warm bodies into that cold, dark void.

Companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin have been working on reusable rocket technology, drastically cutting down the cost of each spaceflight. It is, of course, cheaper to not have to make a new rocket every time someone wants to go to space. Others, like Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, have invested in developing technology for planes capable of near-space flight. The common thing about these three is that they have all successfully made manned space flights this year, with Blue Origin doing two tests within just a span of less than three months. Bezos himself was among the passengers in their first test flight in July 2021.

Space tourism has been in the works, at least in the more developed countries, for some time now. This year, it has blasted closer to reality than it has ever had. But would we want to see space? For many, “to boldly go where no man has gone before” is the opportunity of a lifetime. Taking into mind what Shatner said when he returned from his brief interlude in space, one might think twice.

“Oh, that’s blue sky,” the Capt. Kirk actor told Bezos. “And then suddenly you shoot through it, all of a sudden like you whip off a sheet when you’ve been asleep, and you’re looking into blackness. Into black ugliness.”