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T Rogers, October 7, 1997, "Space Travel and Tourism: A Response to Continuing Decay in US Civil Space Financial Support", . 1988, The Sophron Foundation. Most of the substance of this paper was presented at the 48th Annual meeting of the International Astronautical Federation in Turin, Italy, on October 7, 1997. It now reflects this year's Federal government budget decisions by the President of the United States..
Also downloadable from http://www.spacefuture.com/archive/space travel and tourism a response to continuing decay in us civil space financial support.shtml

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Space Travel and Tourism: A Response to Continuing Decay in US Civil Space Financial Support
T F Rogers

Seemingly each month we continue to learn of, and wonder about, new space feats of the Shuttle fleet, science satellites, solar system probes, and the Hubble space telescope.

Against this general background, in 1990 a civil space study Committee of national repute suggested that physical scientific research should be the focal point of the programme -- led by NASA -- and that it could expect to obtain a 10% real growth in publicly-provided financial support each year throughout the decade of the 1990s. [1]

U.S. civil space leaders accepted both of these suggestions. Unfortunately, both were incorrect and, as a consequence, the programme's support has suffered ever since. [2]

For, almost immediately thereafter, the purchasing power (in 1998 dollars) granted to the programme decreased. It has continued to decrease some 3% per year each year since then. It is now some $3 billion per year less than in 1992, a cumulative decrease of some 20%. And it can be expected to decrease for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, the President of the United States has just submitted a budget figure for NASA which is lower than last year's. Inclusive of Congressional and White House inflation estimates for the next year, this figure would see NASA's purchasing power decrease by another $0.5 billion, i.e., by 3.6%.

If this rate of decay continues-- and given this decade's appropriation-inflation record so far, this appears to be a reasonable assumption-- the purchasing power likely to be provided throughout this decade will be $100 billion less than that expected in the 1990 Committee study. And it will be $25 billion less than the total if the purchasing power had simply remained constant since then.

By the time that the planned International Space Station ( ISS) operating interval is over in 2012, a further decrease to less than $9 billion per can be expected. By then we will have a programme with about one-half the financial support that it had in 1990.

Some argue that NASA could maintain a 1990-level programme for awhile with an annual 3% loss in purchasing power. It could do so by increasing the efficiency of its individual program activities by this amount each year. And, indeed, it has probably done so over the past several years in its space probe and some other areas. And a successful X-33/ RLV public-private space transportation programme would be most helpful in this regard. But there are clear limits to this process.

For instance, starting any large new activity such as human trips to/from and initial settlements of the Moon and/or Mars is out of the question under such financial circumstances, inasmuch as NASA would have to continue to struggle just to stay even.

The contrast between the NASA accomplishments last year, culminating in the successful Mars probe, and the President's budget request could hardly be greater. How is it that, within a half-year after 100s of millions of inquiries were made of the NASA Mars exploration Internet web site regarding the Pathfinder probe landing, NASA's public purchasing prospects were reduced by a half-billion dollars? How is it that of all U.S. Government R&D agencies, NASA was the only that did not receive a budget increase? And this in spite of the fact that this would be " the first [overall] balanced budget in almost 30 years [that holds] out the prospect of a surplus for the first time since Neil Armstrong stepped upon the moon." [3]

We all have the capacity for self delusion, and our civil space programme leaders are no exception: they equate the general public's interest in space, which continues to be high, with the general public as a constituency for the NASA programme itself.

But the simple fact is that, over the past decade or so, our general public has not seen enough produced by the programme that is of sufficient value to them relative to the programme's great cost and the needs of other competitively funded public programs that deal with maintaining national security, crime prevention, education improvement, enlarged health care delivery, etc.

This is, what the programme chooses to do is at least as important as how well it does what it sets out to do.

Not all fundamentally similar Federal programmes are seeing their public financial support decrease. For instance, the U.S. National Institutes of Health program is of nearly identical size now to the civil space programme, and it focuses upon R&D as does the latter. But while NASA's financial support wanes, the NIH's support waxes. The President has just requested a $1.15 billion increase for the NIH, " the largest dollar increase in its history," [4] and an anticipated purchasing power increase of some 6%, i.e., nearly 10% more than NASA.

Whether the members of the civil space community like it or not, they must appreciate that today's United States civil space programme simply does not do enough things that are considered to be very important and of great value outside of the relatively small university-industry-government space community. Yet this space community expects large-scale public funding to continue.

And this same situation prevails to some extent in nearly every other country in the world that looks to its public to pay for costly civil space assets and activities.

Can anything be done to rebuild the U.S. programme's general public constituency?

Yes, there is!

In imaginative and energetic cooperation with our private sector, and our Departments of Commerce, Defense and Transportation, our civil space leaders can refashion today's Federal government ensemble of space activities so as to place greater emphasis upon those which would involve many of us directly and personally, and have much greater interest and value for us.

Specifically, we should all give thought to the fact that, after 40 years of spending $100s of billions (in today's dollars) on human space flight activities, there is still not a single customer for human space flight goods and services other than the government.

Yet, today, well over 10 million of us visit space-related museums and installations throughout the Country each year: the Air and Space Museum, Cape Kennedy, etc. This translates into a terrestrial space tourism business of some $1 billion per year. But, while very many of us would like to take an actual trip to space as well, we cannot, even though polls taken here and abroad suggest that some 40% of our adult population wish to do so. These are the results of the latest professional poll of U.S. space trip interest; it questioned people representative of the 130,000,000 of us who traveled once or more at least 75 miles from home and stayed overnight during 1996. [5]

The poll data suggest that some 50 million of this portion of our general public, i.e., as many as 2 million people per year, would like to visit space. This would require a space transportation service that could carry an annual payload orders of magnitude greater than our entire civil, military and commercial space payload today! And it suggests that space trip business revenues eventually could amount to $10 billion or more per year -- an amount comparable to today's U.S. satellite communications business.

The implications of such an activity for general public support of civil space activities are potentially great.

In late 1995 a cooperative "Space Act" agreement was entered into by NASA and STA to study the question: "What should the United States do to prompt the creation of a potentially large space tourism business." A national study Steering Group was formed to advise the NASA and STA study principals. The group's membership is made up of professionals with experience in the human space flight area, life sciences, insurance, airline operations, terrestrial travel and tourism businesses, space transportation vehicle design, etc.

A Workshop was held at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in which some 50 government, university and aerospace industry professional, and terrestrial travel and tourism business people, considered the issues outlined by the Steering Group. Its volume I is now being reviewed by space-interested offices in Washington, D.C.

It is expected that:

  • The general sense of the report will be very positive;
  • Its findings and recommendations should encourage the development of a potentially large private sector space travel and tourism business;
  • A few of the recommendations will be unexpected by some; and
  • We can see a gradual build-up of travel and tourism business service capability beginning with today's solid base of terrestrial space tourism business.

Already 2 new U.S. companies have just announced that they are positioning themselves to offer 100 kilometer altitude trips 3-5 years hence. Both companies are headed by professionals with both space and travel business experience.

A final observation.

The civil space community must, MUST, reach out beyond its relatively narrow professional interests to discern much more carefully and clearly what the general public would like to see its civil space programme do -- things that would be of great and direct personal value. And then its leaders must modify today's programme to give greater weight to these things. It must do so especially in the human space flight area.* For, as a senior space-related political leader observed, "Public support for the programme is a mile wide and an inch deep." [6]

Cooperating closely with the private sector to see all of us, in time, given the opportunity to take trips to space is certainly one of the most important of those things. And the marginal cost to the Government in addition to its present $multi-billion per year human space flight program would be small.

Those of us in the United States live in a democracy. Over time public funds are allocated by votes that reflect the general public will. The Federal civil space program will either respond to that general public will, as it certainly can, or it will continue to suffer, as it should.

References:
  1. 'Report of the Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. [Civil] Space Program', Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office; Washington, D.C.; 20402; December, 1990.
  2. T F Rogers, May 1992, " The US Government Civil Space Programme: It Must be Changed Fundamentally and Soon", Space Policy May 1992, Pages 103-108.
  3. The New York Times; February 3, 1998; page 1.
  4. The Washington Post; February 3, 1998; page A9.
  5. The poll was conducted by YPBY/Yankelovich Partners for the 1997 National Leisure Travel Monitor. Its data were provided to the author by Dennis A. Marzella, Senior Vice President of Yesiawich, Pepperdine and Brown of Orlando, Florida.
  6. To the author, privately.
T Rogers, October 7, 1997, "Space Travel and Tourism: A Response to Continuing Decay in US Civil Space Financial Support", . 1988, The Sophron Foundation. Most of the substance of this paper was presented at the 48th Annual meeting of the International Astronautical Federation in Turin, Italy, on October 7, 1997. It now reflects this year's Federal government budget decisions by the President of the United States..
Also downloadable from http://www.spacefuture.com/archive/space travel and tourism a response to continuing decay in us civil space financial support.shtml

 Bibliographic Index
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