The future of space travel
Forget the Caribbean, tomorrow’s vacations could be in space
“Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the cosmic ocean. We are ready to set sail for the stars.” – Carl Sagan, American Astronomer
After 30 years, over 130 successful missions, and two very tragic disasters, NASA’s shuttle program is coming to an end.
So, what does the future hold for human space travel and exploration?
NASA’s successor to the shuttle program was to be the Constellation program, which had hopes of finally returning humans to the moon, as well as eventually sending them to Mars. Unfortunately for the program’s supporters, President Obama officially put an end to this program in October 2010, insisting that NASA get out of the budget-eating crewed spaceflight business and allocate their resources to other scientific endeavors, like robotic spaceflight and exploration.
The hope is that the private companies with a firm footing in the space industry will take the lead towards making space travel more innovative, successful, and affordable. Many of these companies have worked as subcontractors for NASA in the past, developing and building the various spacecrafts and rockets seen over the years. NASA will continue to work with these companies for both mutual benefit and greater innovation.
Dr. Martin Beech, University of Regina professor of astronomy, is optimistic for the effects the transition will have on the human space travel industry. He said he believes the private sector will excel in certain areas of the industry, mainly space tourism and low-earth orbit. Competition between companies will drive the price down, generating more and more interest in space travel.
Virgin Galactic, headed by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, is currently developing a fleet of spaceships to carry paying passengers to low-earth orbit to experience weightlessness. The price tag? A mere $200,000 per ticket.
Another big name to look out for is SpaceX, founded by the enthusiastic entrepreneur Elon Musk. SpaceX made history on Dec. 8, 2010, by being the first private company to send a manned spacecraft to orbit the earth. Intrestingly, Musk has a family tie to Regina – his mother was born here.
Many others have begun taking a lead role in specific divisions of space travel and tourism.
A company called Orbital specializes in launch vehicles. Bigelow Aerospace is in the space habitat business, with several large-scale space stations currently in development. In the next decade, when you take your family to spend a week in an outer space hotel, expect to stay at a Bigelow.
It may initially seem like a step backwards to cancel the Constellation program, but Beech says it’s the “first step on the ladder” towards innovation.
As for the moon and Mars, it’s still going to be a while, but here’s a reassuring instance from history to think about in the meantime.
In 1961, spurred by competition with the USSR, President Kennedy announced the United States’ goal to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Eight years later, three men successfully traveled the entire 384,000 km there and back, proving that humans are capable of just about anything. Just think of how fast things could move with the space travel industry in the hands of the competitive private sector.