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29 July 2012
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16 July 2012
Space Future has been on something of a hiatus of late. With the concept of Space Tourism steadily increasing in acceptance, and the advances of commercial space, much of our purpose could be said to be achieved. But this industry is still nascent, and there's much to do. this space.
9 December 2010
Updated "What the Growth of a Space Tourism Industry Could Contribute to Employment, Economic Growth, Environmental Protection, Education, Culture and World Peace" to the 2009 revision.
7 December 2008
"What the Growth of a Space Tourism Industry Could Contribute to Employment, Economic Growth, Environmental Protection, Education, Culture and World Peace" is now the top entry on Space Future's Key Documents list.
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P Collins, 21 November 2003, "The Future of Lunar Tourism", Invited speech, International Lunar Conference, Waikoloa, Hawaii, 21 November 2003.
Also downloadable from future of lunar tourism.shtml

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The Future of Lunar Tourism
Travel to and from the lunar surface has been known to be feasible since it was first achieved 34 years ago. Since that time there has been enormous progress in related engineering fields, so there are no fundamental technical problems facing the development of lunar tourism -- only investment and business problems. The outstanding near-term problem is to reduce the cost of launch to low Earth orbit, which has been famously described as "halfway to anywhere".

Recently there has been major progress towards overturning the myth that launch costs are high because of inescapable physical limits, as companies are planning sub-orbital flights at 0.1% of the cost of Alan Shepard's similar flight in 1961. Market research shows strong demand for both sub-orbital flights and orbital services. Travel to the Moon will offer further unique attractions: in addition to its allure arising from millennia of mythology in every country, bird-like flying sports will surely become a powerful demand factor.

The paper also explains that, far from being an activity of minor economic importance, the progressive growth of tourism services from sub-orbital flights through lunar tourism, will contribute greatly to economic growth on Earth and create new employment on a large scale, in the same way as the development of tourism in Hawaii has enriched the US mainland and elsewhere.

Key Words: Lunar tourism, Space tourism, Space commercialisation, Lunar development

Tourism is still not a common subject at space conferences. This paper argues that, far from being a trivial topic which "real" space engineers should ignore, it is the key to making space and lunar development profitable -- and so unstoppable. There could hardly be a better place to discuss lunar tourism than Hawaii, because tourism is the largest business activity in the state, and it generates huge wealth not only in Hawaii but also on the US mainland and in other places from where people trade or invest in Hawaii. All this wealth creation starts for the simplest, most human of reasons: People enjoy being there. Many millions of people have found that spending a few days in Hawaii makes them feel good. At first, people visited Hawaii spontaneously for its delightful climate and scenery; this inspired entrepreneurs to work to make it convenient and affordable for more and more people to visit. This has involved using their ingenuity to supply an ever-growing range of popular services, and has included supporting local governments to enforce regulations as needed to protect the environment that visitors want to experience.

Lunar tourism will be the same: as soon as they can, many people will travel to the Moon for the same reason -- they will enjoy visiting there. Since the idea of space tourism is known to be very popular; since the Moon has a unique place in the mythology and traditions of every culture; and since there will clearly be many unique experiences during a trip to the Moon and back, it's clear that it has the potential to become a major tourist destination.

Unfortunately, many people in the space industry suffer from the mistaken idea that tourism has no economic value. They believe that, unless people are working to make some kind of machine, their work is not really valuable. This belief is objectively wrong; the error of the "labour theory of value" is a long-standing issue in economics: work to supply a product is not valuable if there is insufficient demand. To give a simple example, without demand for tourism services from billions of people handled by hundreds of airlines operating thousands of airliners, aircraft manufactures could not produce them at a profit, thereby together creating millions of jobs in the civil aerospace industry. By contrast, making machines which no-one wants to buy, however technologically advanced they are, actually destroys wealth instead of creating it, because it wastes skilled humans' efforts.

The wealth in Hawaii generated by tourism depends on people continuing to want to visit. And that can fall for a number of reasons -- for example, if there is a war, or a recession, or if the local government allowed the environment to be polluted, or if businesses there fell behind other tourist destinations. But demand in any industry is vulnerable to disruption and competition -- as the rapid shrinking of US manufacturing employment, including particularly aerospace, shows clearly.

Because of this way of thinking in the space industry, many of the general public have a "taboo" about the subject of lunar tourism, and even orbital and sub-orbital tourism. They find it hard to imagine travel to and from the Moon becoming an important part of the travel industry. They consider the idea futuristic -- "maybe 100 years from now" -- forgetting that it was already done more than 34 years ago. So this paper starts by clearing up some "myths" about space tourism.

In doing so, criticism of government space agencies is unavoidable -- so it's useful to remember the story of the alcoholic's friends: one says "Let's go for a drink", while the other says "You look terrible; let's get you some help." Readers will surely all agree that the one who brings help is the truer friend. The committee which investigated the Columbia accident severely criticised Nasa, but no-one complains, because their objective was to help. In the same way, speaking the truth about lunar tourism requires facing some uncomfortable facts, but it is in the best of causes: to correct mistakes that are costing taxpayers very dearly -- especially in the USA.


First of all, it is certain that travel to and from the Moon is possible -- because it was done 34 years ago. It is quite hard to list all the products that did not yet exist in 1969 -- not just recent inventions like CDs, laptop computers, the internet, mobile telephones or carbon nanotubes, of course, but back in 1969 Boeing 747s, optical fibres, video-cassettes, the walkman and even electronic calculators were yet to come; most people had never even seen a colour television. Since 1969, there have been literally generations of the fastest technological progress in history -- in materials engineering, production engineering, combustion engineering, semiconductor technology, computing, communications and many other fields. So anything that was possible 34 years ago is potentially very much easier today.

In addition to 34 years of technological progress, since 1969 there has been about $1 billion of research in lunar science and engineering, well summarised in the collected proceedings of the ASCE's unique series of conferences at Albuquerque [1]. Technically there are no fundamental unknowns about lunar development -- except how rapidly the travel market will develop, and how cheap lunar travel may ultimately become as passenger traffic builds up to large scale.


Many people today believe that the fact that space agencies have not developed passenger launch vehicles proves that they are impossible with known technology. This is perhaps the most damaging myth, but it is not true, as shown by two recent events.

Space flight cost stagnation

First, Dennis Tito demonstrated in April 2001 that, despite having spent $1 trillion of taxpayers' money over the past 40 years, the space agencies of the USA, Europe and Japan have not reduced the cost of getting to space by a single cent. The cheapest and safest way to fly to space is still to use essentially the same rocket that carried Yuri Gagarin 42 years ago. It is hard to believe that any American learning about Gagarin orbiting overhead in 1961 imagined that their government would spend nearly $1 trillion over 40 years -- and yet the cheapest and safest way to get to space would still be to use the same rocket that carried Gagarin! The Soyuz rocket has been unmatched for 42 years -- and surely will be for more than 50 years; this may be unique in the history of transportation. It's also very important to understand what this astounding fact means: among other things, it proves that space agencies have not been trying to reduce the cost of access to space. The truth is that they have no interest in doing so. Why space agencies have evolved to behave in this way is an interesting subject in itself [2], but it is not the subject of the present paper.

Low-cost sub-orbital flights

More recently, thanks to the efforts of Burt Rutan and his competitors in the X-Prize, it is being demonstrated that sub-orbital space flights in the near future will cost 1/1,000 of what it cost to launch Alan Shepard to space in 1961. That is, by applying some of the engineering knowledge that has accumulated since 1961 we can reduce sub-orbital transportation costs by some 99.9%.

Moreover, sub-orbital passenger flights using reusable vehicles could have started during the Apollo project, since the technology needed was developed during the 1960s using rocket-planes. Thus, if space agencies had economic rather than political objectives, a commercial sub-orbital spaceline could have been in operation before humans stepped on the Moon. But this did not fit space agencies' thinking. Instead, they focussed on performing government space "missions". As a result in 2003 most people, including most politicians, journalists and scientists, still mistakenly believe that traveling to space is almost impossibly difficult and dangerous, and so expensive that it can be justified only for specially selected government employees. Once this is shown to be wrong in the case of sub-orbital space travel, it is to be hoped that the public will quickly understand that it is wrong also about travel to orbit and beyond.

Low-cost orbital flights

The available evidence suggests that orbital flights too are amenable to similar cost-reduction through the use of some of the technology that has been developed during the 42 years since Gagarin's flight. The privately supported Space Tourism Study Program performed between 1993 and 2002 by the Japanese Rocket Society concluded that the " Kankoh-maru" SSTO VTOL passenger vehicle could be developed and put into service within 10 years for about $10 billion [3]. This result is broadly endorsed by other experts on VTOL systems, including Dietrich Koelle and William Gaubatz, and it is broadly similar to cost-estimates for two-stage HTOL vehicles by groups such as Bristol Spaceplanes [4]. It is noteworthy that neither of these vehicle types were considered in Nasa's Highly Reusable Space Transportation research project [5], since they were judged not to meet that study's requirement to perform 100 flights/year carrying a 10 ton payload to orbit at less than $400/kg. However that study did not consider producing a fleet of tens of vehicles and operating them to make thousands of passenger flights/year as planned in [3, 4].

The ex-head of Nasa's Office of Advanced Space Projects, Ivan Bekey summarised the likely development costs of orbital passenger vehicles in [6]. For about the cost of developing a new airliner, some $10 billion -- ie far less than a single year of OECD space agencies' budgets -- it is possible to produce a passenger launch vehicle which, put into series production, could carry passengers to orbit for less than $50,000. In civil aviation the cost per passenger of a mature air transport system is about three times the cost of the propellants; this rule of thumb will probably also apply to passenger space transport systems when they reach maturity. Importantly, the vehicles used for such services will become the basis of lunar tourism: since the velocity-change for a return-trip between LEO and the lunar surface is less than that between here and LEO, a VTOL launch vehicle, if refuelled in LEO, could make a return flight to the Moon's surface -- though in practice it would be suitably modified [7].

In view of these considerations, it is necessary to face the fact that space agencies are not interested in making space accessible to taxpayers. They have never tried to do so; they are not trying to now; and they have no plans to try in the future. As a particularly clear example, at time of writing the Nasa administrator is trying to persuade the US Congress to allow Nasa to spend $14 billion to develop a capsule like the Apollo module, which he calls an "orbital space plane". Even if it was reusable, this would cost $14 billion plus at least $100 million per flight, since it will be launched on a US-made expendable rocket. Thus it would be some ten times more expensive than Soyuz, of which the total cost of rocket and crew-cabin is some $28 million [8], and never as reliable. It would produce the truly bizarre result that more than 50 years after Gagarin's flight, and having spent more than $1 trillion, the US government would have launch costs 10x higher than Gagarin! Economically the "orbital space plane" is nonsensical; it would prevent the achievement of low-cost space travel in the USA for another 20 years. In truth, it is a political project, designed to make expenditure on the International Space Station project sound a responsible use of taxpayers' money in statements made by Nasa officials and politicians for consumption by the general public who are poorly informed victims of this myth.

OECD space agencies' favourite activity is performing government projects using equipment they have developed. But they are also legally responsible for commercial space development; for example, Nasa is required by Federal law to "..encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space" [9]. But Nasa is not doing this -- and nor are Esa or Jaxa. Out of the $20 billion which they spend every year on non-science activities, essentially none is used to forward the development of passenger travel, despite having acknowledged its unique commercial potential [10]. The politicians who allow this situation to continue are not fulfilling their responsibilities to the public. This problem, which must be rectified, is discussed at length in [8].


Space agency staff often claim this, but now that applications satellites are a mature business there is nothing more valuable to be done in space than to make it possible for the general public to travel there. How can Americans believe anything else? Historically this was the source of the USA's strength: it was wealth created by vigorous, consumer-oriented US businesses that over-powered the Soviet Union, not military prowess. With the commercial space industry shrinking for lack of demand, space agencies are in denial about this. But the goal of economic development is freedom: freedom to do what we want. Most people, once they reach a certain standard of living, like to travel, which is one of the greatest educational activities: "travel broadens the mind." Everyone who has been to space says that it was the greatest experience of their life, and market research shows that a majority of the population in all countries surveyed so far say that they would like to take a trip to space.

In democratic, capitalistic countries no other justification is necessary. It should be sufficient reason that many people wish to pay for this life-enhancing experience. In addition to being unique fun, travelling to space and looking in at the Earth, and out at the solar system and beyond towards the beckoning stars, is a profoundly educational and spiritual experience. Not only is this wish to travel to space and to the Moon not "trivial", it is profoundly human and highly desirable for as many people to experience as possible. However, as it happens, R&D in the aerospace industry is nearly all government-funded, and so without some effective popular pressure being put on governments to facilitate the development of this activity, many more years are likely to be wasted, at great cost to taxpayers, as discussed below.

Economic value

Space agency staff claim that their activities developing space technology are more valuable than "ordinary people buying tickets to fly to space". However, without engaging popular consumer demand, space activities cannot grow except on the backs of taxpayers. Economic value, that is new wealth, is created when someone profitably supplies a service or product to someone who freely chooses to buy it from them; both sides in such a free transaction become better off than they were, and the profit remaining which is saved for future investment is a rough measure of the benefit to society as a whole. By contrast, when someone takes money forcibly away from another person - such as in taxation - and spends that money on performing activities with little economic value, this destroys economic value and reduces the wealth of the society.

There are, of course, cases where people think some activity has no value, but in fact it has. (For example, compulsory health, life and unemployment insurance -- provided that it is competently managed -- can be valuable, by compensating for people's over-optimistic expectations concerning the risks they face during their life. Likewise, efficient redistributive policies can have value by maintaining social harmony by reducing injustices.) And space agencies generally claim this about their activities -- that they are developing the technology necessary for opening the frontier of space for humanity, so their expenditure, though loss-making in the short-term, will have value over the longer term. Sadly, however, this claim is mostly unjustified.

To date, OECD space agencies have spent about $1 trillion of taxpayers' money, with which they have developed a significant amount of space-related technology and knowledge. But much of it is of little economic value, because it is far too expensive. Furthermore, space agencies have made no effort to apply this technology to the most economically valuable use of space - which is to supply the passenger travel services which large numbers of people around the world wish to purchase. Consequently, instead of a $1 trillion/year commercial space industry, there is a commercial satellite services industry with a turnover of around $20 billion/year, which is about 1/50 of what should result from $1 trillion investment. Commercial demand multiplies the economic activity arising from investment by 10x to 20x, as shown in Figure 1. Without some such source of large turnover, investment in space development cannot be repaid, and space commercialisation is impossible.

Figure 1: Contrast between commercial investment and space agency expenditure

Market research in several countries over more than a decade shows that most people would like to take a trip to space, as referenced in [8]. Combined with studies of the potential for cost reduction through airline-like orbital flight operations, this suggests strongly that the business could grow to millions of customers/year. Just as in passenger air travel, as the scale of traffic grows, costs and prices will fall progressively. Based on the work of the Japanese Rocket Society and others, we could have an orbital tourism industry of several million passengers per year by about 2030, as shown in Figure 2, first published in 1999 [11]. The great majority of the investment needed would come from the private sector, as in the airline, hotel, cruising and leisure industries today. However, unless some initial investment is provided by governments we will waste many more years waiting to start.

The position taken by heads of space agencies that this is the responsibility of the private sector is disingenuous. Space agencies' economic return on their non-science activities is close to minus 100%. Private investment in a novel activity such as space tourism will require a compound return of some 25% or more. Although the available evidence suggests that passenger space travel will have as great economic value as passenger air travel, it cannot be confidently predicted that investments in the early stages will earn such a return, particularly while there are major regulatory uncertainties due to governments' delay in this matter.

Furthermore, it is economically irrational for governments to spend heavily on space agencies' loss-making activities while refusing to invest in much more economically promising ones. Such a position is not only a "double standard", but it is deeply flawed as economic policy, preventing the growth of a major new industry. Moreover, almost no major aerospace developments are privately funded, as mentioned above, and governments have invested heavily for decades in aviation developments which have had positive indirect benefits that greatly exceed the profits earned directly by airlines (which are quite limited).

Figure 2: Feasible space tourism scenario
The "10% Challenge"

Not only does it seem likely that space tourism can grow into a major new source of high quality employment comparable to air travel, but it requires only very modest government support to initiate. The author claims that a budget of just 10% of government support for space agencies, if devoted to stimulating the growth of space tourism, could realise the scenario in Figure 2, since most of the later investment will come from the private sector. Funding of $2 billion/year would allow development of both SSTO VTOL and TSTO HTOL passenger vehicles, as well as a range of related activities. Once passenger vehicles are certified for passenger carrying, private companies will take over -- just as they manufacture and operate airliners and hotels. In this case lunar tourism could start as early as the 2020s.

In this context it is useful to remember how fast companies can invest when they anticipate profits. Within just a few years, US companies invested nearly $1 trillion into new fiber-optic networks during the late 1990s; unfortunately they collectively overestimated the demand by more than a factor of ten. However, spread over 30 years the investment of several hundred billion dollars to expand space tourism to millions of passengers/year is clearly easy in comparison.

That is, both technically and financially such a scenario is feasible. Whether it happens depends solely on whether the necessary investment starts to be made in the next few years or not. Will governments continue their economically perverse use of $20 billion/year on non-science space activities with little economic value, while continuing to refuse any investment at all in the most economically valuable activity in space? Or will they start to implement the institutional changes that are needed to shift the paradigm of space activities left over from the Cold War? Funding equivalent to 10% of space agencies' budgets is clearly a trivially light burden, once it is seen as economically valuable.


Of course lunar tourism cannot start until the necessary facilities are constructed on the Moon; however, there appears to be a largely commercial route toward this. The key to lunar economic development is exports. It is easy to understand this by noting that the funds for investment will come from Earth, and so they must be paid back to Earth. In order to do this, profits must be earned, which requires a greater value of sales to Earth. Sufficient services and goods must therefore be sold from the Moon to the Earth -- or to commercial facilities in Earth orbit.

As the number of hotels in Earth orbit grows following the scenario in Figure 2, it will create a large, near-time market in low Earth orbit for a range of goods and services at high prices. Of particular interest in the early stages will be the demand for water and liquid oxygen ( LOX), which could be lunar exports. Even at relatively low launch costs of, say, $200/kg, water in orbit will still be very expensive -- $200,000/ton, giving lunar producers a good business opportunity which could grow to billions of dollars/year, as discussed in [12]. Investment in the infrastructure needed for living on the Moon could therefore be repaid largely from exports of ice, water and/or LOX. This infra-structure can then be expanded for tourist accommodation. Once started, the hotel industry, which is a large, powerful and competitive business, will progressively improve and expand their offerings on the lunar surface. Investments in terrestrial hotels costing $1 billion and theme parks costing several billion dollars show that, once launch costs are reduced and infrastructure developed, the scale of financing required to build lunar hotels should be feasible. Once started, lunar tourism and related industries on the Moon and in various orbits will surely grow progressively as transportation companies drive down costs and prices and expand the range of services.

In this way the development of tourist accommodation services in Earth orbit can help to trigger the development of lunar tourism services. If passenger flight services to low Earth orbits start within 10 to 15 years [3, 4], lunar tourism could start within 15 to 20 years, though lunar orbital trips could start earlier. These estimates contrast sharply with space agencies' suggestions that LEO tourism could start in 2040 [13] or even in 2075! [14]. It is perhaps worth emphasising that there is no question of government subsidies for tourism to and from the Moon; this activity will develop on a commercial basis once low Earth orbit becomes readily accessible.

In reality, once a credible plan to develop orbital passenger vehicles begins for real, companies planning services that depend on these vehicles for their realisation will be able to start work in earnest. Just as LEO space tourism started at a price of about $20 million/passenger, lunar tourism is sure to start at high prices. But just as published estimates foresee the price of orbital flights falling to $20,000 per passenger or less as turnover reaches millions of passengers/year, the price of lunar travel will fall progressively, averaging perhaps ten times the price of an orbital flight. (The propellant required is only twice that required to reach LEO, but lunar trips will use a range of additional infrastructure). Also like other forms of passenger transport, the safety of space tourism services will grow as the scale of activity grows and statistical data accumulates: also many risks which one vehicle traveling alone faces decline when other vehicles travel the same route.


From market research over a decade we know that the basic idea of space tourism is extremely popular. Travel to the Moon will surely be additionally popular for several reasons, including adventure, science, spiritual and other reasons. To actually visit the Moon will have a wide range of meanings for people from all cultures, young and old, women and men, and could become the global "Mecca" of the 21st century.

As proved 34 years ago, a return journey to the Moon takes one week. Consequently ten-day to two-week lunar trips, which are very convenient for tourism, can clearly become popular services. Long-term lunar residents will need to live and work underground for much of the time in order to limit the radiation they receive (although counter-measures can be expected to be developed progressively). However the situation is different for guests, who will be able to spend several "day-times" on the surface without significant risk to their health.

As lunar infrastructure develops, the possibility of constructing buildings six times taller than on Earth provides extraordinary potential for fascinating architecture. Domes will be able to be even larger due to the support from the internal air pressure. This will enable the realisation of humans' eons-long dream of flying like birds; flying and flying sports will be a truly unique new attraction of life on the lunar surface. The engineer and science fiction author Robert Heinlein described this possibility in his justly famous short story "The Menace from Earth" [15]. Calculation shows that speeds of up to about 50 km/hour should be possible, although humans have a turning-circle of some 50 metres [16]. Consequently, as soon as visitor numbers justify it economically, developers will construct a lunar flying stadium for this new sport. Humans have such a deep interest in flying like birds that the possibility of really doing so in the lunar gravity field will surely lead many people to try it out. Flying will also be possible in orbiting zero-gravity facilities [17], so guests will have been able to try it out there first (though it will be significantly different from flying in the Moon's 1/6 gravity field).

Lunar travel sequence

The following is a simple list of some of the highlights of a lunar tourist trip, at a time when lunar travel and tourism are relatively mature. In the early days, lunar visits will be primarily a form of "adventure tourism"; but as the infrastructure grows they will offer a progressively wider range of increasingly interesting activities.

  1. Preparation; most guests will probably have previously made sub-orbital and orbital flights.
  2. Boarding orbital ferry
  3. Take-off
  4. Entering low Earth orbit
  5. Rendezvous and docking at LEO hotel
  6. Disembarking, short stay in LEO hotel
  7. Boarding Earth-Moon inter-orbital ferry
  8. Undocking, departure from Earth orbit
  9. Views of ever-shrinking Earth and ever-growing Moon
  10. Earth-Moon Libration point 1; 58,000 km to go
  11. Earth-Moon gravitational equivalence point; 38,000 km to go
  12. Entering low lunar orbit
  13. Rendezvous and docking at lunar orbit hotel
  14. Disembarking, viewing Moon from low orbit
  15. Boarding lunar surface ferry
  16. Departure, de-orbit
  17. Landing, disembarking on lunar surface
  18. Check-in, acclimatisation, "Moon-walking"
  19. Sight-seeing, views of Moon and Earth
  20. Visits to dark side, polar mines, historic sites
  21. Flying stadium, flying sports
  22. Performances, flying ballet
  23. Lunar park, low-gravity pool
  24. Check-out, take-off for return journey -- reverse sequence to above.

Even a short list such as the above shows the range of fascinating experiences unavailable on Earth that will surely draw visitors to the Moon in ever-growing numbers. The various equipment and facilities needed will be the space-age equivalent of airliners, cruise-liners, ferries, ports and airports, hotels and others. One cost of this activity is that as visitors reach tens of thousands and then millions, the lunar environment will change. This is unavoidable; but in exchange, lunar development will generate wide-ranging economic benefits for those living on Earth by greatly stimulating innovation and growth in the world economy.


From the above it seems clear that, far from being a trivial activity involving just a few rich people, which would waste resources that could be used better here on Earth, lunar tourism can grow into a large industry which will, on the contrary, have great benefits for the world economy.

Employment creation

First, as already explained, tourism in space (of which lunar tourism will become a large part in the middle of the century) has potentially far greater economic value than any other space activity to date, for the simple reason that it will generate a mass market. This is what results from supplying a service for which there is large popular demand: in normal business activities this multiplies the amount of economic activity resulting from investment 10 - 20 times, as shown in Figure 1. There is no other such market in space -- and there is no reason to suppose that it will ever stop growing.

Space agencies spend huge budgets on activities that generate no new commercial demand, because they consider consumer demand to be "trivial". But this is the opposite of the truth: without stimulating popular demand, space activities are just a burden on taxpayers. As discussed above, OECD space agencies have spent $1 trillion on nominally civilian space activities to date, but this has created commercial turnover of only about $20 billion/year -- about 1/50 of the amount that commercial investment of the same amount would have achieved. From the economic point of view this performance is terrible; it is a pitifully bad use of resources, ranking with the worst of public sector expenditure, and it has added materially to the burden of government debt weighing down OECD economies.

It is very unfortunate that, because of this poor economic performance of space agencies and their political overseers, very few people in government understand the potential of space activities to contribute to economic growth. However, the world economy today is menaced by record unemployment -- fundamentally due to the lack of new industries, the lack of profitable new investment opportunities. As the manufacture of clothes, bicycles, electrical goods, ships, televisions, steel, computers and software and other work move to lower-cost countries, now including India and China, there is a "jobless recovery" in the USA. There is a great deal of discussion about whether this flow of jobs abroad is good or bad for the USA. The truth is that it can be good for the US people on one condition: that the jobs lost are replaced with better, higher-paying jobs. There is only one way to do this: continue the pattern that has been operating for centuries whereby the richer countries develop new industries progressively which replace jobs lost in older ones [18].

Particularly good examples of this process are the 20th century growth of the automobile and air travel industries. 100 years ago Henry Ford had not yet produced the Model T -- most people in the USA still used horse-drawn transport -- and of course the Wright brothers had still not made their first flight. Yet these industries now employ more than 100 million people around the world.

If space will learn from aviation and follow the precedent of passenger air travel, there is every reason to foresee that passenger space travel can grow to large scale [8]. This paper claims that no other new industry will generate more employment. The growth of space tourism can produce an ever-widening boom spreading through the economy like the "Internet Boom" of the 1990s -- except that this boom need not end in a stock-market crash due to insufficient profits: the demand for space travel has been pent up for more than 30 years, and can grow literally without limit.

With unemployment world-wide at its highest levels since the 1930s, it is infinitely preferable to cure it by creating a popular new service industry with unlimited scope for growth -- than by reverting to war, as happened in the 1930s. Yet the US government is not even studying the possibility -- its own space agency refuses even to discuss it! This situation is so extraordinary, so contrary to US ideology -- namely that the people's wishes, not those of government officials or vested interests, should decide policy -- that the present period in which the influence of the Cold War remains so strong, will surely be of particular interest to future historians of the USA.

Critics sometimes mock advocates of space tourism by saying that "they want everyone to fly to space -- which is crazy". But this is a ridiculous claim: the wealth generated by European investment in the Americas did not flow only to the small proportion of the population who crossed the Atlantic -- much of it benefited investors who stayed behind in Europe. The grand old houses on the west coast of Britain in Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool and Glasgow are testimony to the wealth of merchants who traded successfully with America without leaving Britain.

The same will happen on Earth as lunar tourism develops -- just as the growth of Hawaiian tourism has generated ever-growing trade with the USA and Japan, stimulating investment in new aircraft, hotels, computer systems, and many new sports and leisure industries, among other products and services. Just a few million people per year visiting orbit will have a highly stimulating effect on a wide range of aerospace-related industries which are today shrinking from lack of demand. Yet air travel is already 3 million people per day, so space tourism has plenty of room to grow. By becoming a large new industry which will purchase a wide range of advanced technologies from a wide range of engineering industries, space tourism will create profitable, expanding employment for millions of people on Earth, quite different from those who actually choose to visit or work in space and on the Moon.

New resources

The growth of space tourism will not only bring a flood of innovation in a wide range of industries, it will also open up resources for human use that are not being used today. By sharply reducing the cost of access to space in a way that small-scale government activities never can, passenger travel will make it economical to use the unlimited resources of space. The only thing restraining economic growth on the Moon is the cost of getting there. The only way of cutting this cost sharply is to develop a sufficiently large space transportation market to enable "airline operations" -- and that means passenger travel. Tourism can thereby pay for the development of the low-cost space transportation which is the sine qua non for opening the resources of space for human use.

There is not space to discuss this subject further here, but it is of the greatest importance. There is a growing clamour among concerned citizens for OECD governments to commit seriously to developing the technology needed to supply tens of Terawatts of carbon dioxide-free energy. Solar energy supply from space is one of the small number of candidates for this, and the lunar surface may be the best site for thousands of square kilometres of photovoltaic panels and wireless power transmission equipment [19].


The possibility of utilising the resources of space leads on to the "cultural" benefits of lunar tourism, which may be even more important than the economic benefits, in at least two different directions.

New Renaissance

First, the prospect of lunar tourism will raise humans' eyes to a wider horizon. People still speak of the "post-cold-war" era or the "era of globalisation"; but these are merely transitional phases. Tourism in space is going to lead humans into the true "Space Age" -- that is, the age when the general public start to make use of space directly. This will bring about a genuine "New Renaissance" -- a time when old ideas that have been accepted for generations are understood to be wrong, and a flood of new understanding revitalises stagnating cultures in an optimistic era of intellectual excitement. Ideas that are long overdue for discarding are that space flight has little value and can only be justified for a small number of government employees, and that humans face a constrained and gloomy future of fighting over "dwindling resources".

In a link with the original Renaissance, this will herald the start of the true "Copernican" era. The idea is still widespread that here on Earth is all that humans have; energy sources are buried in the ground, and so we need to grab as much as we can before others do [20]. But this idea is so narrow-minded it is laughable; people who believe this are the "Flat-Earthers" of the 21st Century. If these people will just look "outside", they will learn that the resources of Earth are barely a speck compared to what is available to humans in reality.

But while "Flat-Earthers" continue to hold sway in governments around the world, and space agencies expend enormous amounts of taxpayers' funds with little economic benefit, just a modest investment would be sufficient to develop inexhaustible energy resources within a few decades [21, 22]. This will permanently eliminate any need to burn limited fossil fuel resources, and will include the development of space-based power supply to Earth.

Flying culture

A quite different and more specific benefit is that a significant part of the "lunar culture" that is going to grow with lunar tourism will surely concern flying. The possibility of flying like birds, and the freedom for construction provided by the Moon's low gravity field described above will surely lead to tourism centres, civic areas, domes and other buildings designed specifically for moving around by flying. Imagine getting up, putting on your wings, and diving from your balcony on the 100th floor of your hotel. . . and landing on a patio on the 50th floor of a nearby building? This is not a dream; it is a realistic possibility for a lunar tourist resort within at most a few decades. With a concentrated effort, using some of the resources of the space industry which is shrinking for lack of ideas about worthwhile space activities, it could start within 15 years.

Such experiences will be an irresistible draw to lunar tourists, and a uniquely liberating aspect of the lunar life-style. Who will not want to experience it for themselves? Over and beyond this, what young person will not respond to the reality of having such a fascinating frontier once again? Lunar culture will thereby contribute a major new invigorating theme to world culture, in addition to the wave of innovations brought about by the earlier growth of orbital tourism. At a time of falling educational levels in many of the richer countries, including particularly the USA, such a cultural incentive for young people to challenge new technological frontiers will have enormous value. Indeed, it seems that, in the absence of a clear vision of a challenging future, young people become easily distracted by the many pastimes that companies design to lure them into passive consuming, and they fail to struggle for important new goals as happens in a healthy culture.

In view of these wide-ranging benefits, there is surely nothing else currently foreseeable for human civilisation -- not robotics, not broad-band Internet connectivity, not genetic engineering -- which offers anywhere near such an inspiring and uplifting prospect for human culture worldwide -- a true New Renaissance to which every culture can contribute, and from which every country can benefit -- as the rapid growth of tourism in space and on the Moon.


With the growing recognition of the economic importance of space tourism, which will advance rapidly when a private group starts sub-orbital space flights -- hopefully on December 17 -- we are approaching a watershed in progress towards its realisation. However, if voters are so uncritical that they continue to accept government space agencies' self-interested statements about the infeasibility of space tourism until 2040 or even 2075, then they will continue to bear the heavy cost of closing off the enormous promise of space commercialisation.

As soon as the effort is made to compel governments to start spending the small amount needed to facilitate the development of space tourism, just 10% of existing space budgets earmarked for this purpose will change the world. Requiring that 10% of governments' space budgets be used in this way to open up space to the general public is an economically desirable use of public funds. And if the politicians responsible for space agency budgets will not compel them to fulfil their already clearly defined responsibilities in this field, then it will be necessary to fund new government organisations to break the space agencies' extremely damaging monopoly position. To do this the public must be educated about these possibilities -- as the X-Prize Competition is helping to do. Once the public learns about the possibilities that space agencies are preventing, we know from market research that they will support the changes necessary to realise them. There is a major role for private patrons in this, for example through sponsoring university-based research.

The human race faces a fundamental choice: because of ever-improving productive efficiency, there is not enough work to keep everyone busy. Collectively, humans have the ability and urge to do a lot more than is nowadays necessary to survive in the rich countries. What should this work be? One possibility is to have more wars. These keep many people busy, and they can be fought over resources, territory, race, religion or any number of other contrived issues. Alternatively we can make the tiny collective investment need to make space activities profitable: this will open up unlimited resources for human use, and thereby eliminate the need for most wars in the future. The change in institutional thinking and the small budget changes needed to do this surely cannot be beyond the capabilities of the governments of all the leading countries.

Once we start on this path for real, our progress will be a beacon for the young, showing them that - in contrast to the ridiculous "flat-Earthers'" vision of rich countries having to fight to the death to keep the poor from getting their share of the "dwindling resources" of Earth -- there is an easily-achievable, optimistic future of unlimited growth in standards of living for everyone on Earth, in orbit, on the Moon -- and beyond.

So there is no need to be embarrassed to talk about lunar tourism: it's going to be huge. Not a small peripheral part of space activities; it will be the mainstream. And just as soon as it's accepted that developing orbital tourism is of vital economic importance, the road to lunar development will be open -- and it will not close a second time.

  1. ASCE, 1994 - 2002, Construction Engineering and Operations in Space, American Society for Civil Engineering.
  2. P Collins, 2000, "Public Choice Economics and Space Policy: Realising Space Tourism", Acta Astronautica, Vol 48, No. 5-12, pp 921-950; also at archive/public_choice_economics_and_ space_policy_realising_space_tourism.shtml
  3. K Isozaki et al, 1998, "Status Report on Space Tour Vehicle Kankoh-Maru of Japanese Rocket Society", IAF paper no IAA-98-IAA.1.5.06; also at archive/status_report_ on_space_tour_vehicle_kankoh_maru_of_japanese_rocket_society.shtml
  4. D Ashford, 2003, "Spaceflight Revolution", Imperial College Press, London.
  5. J Mankins, 1997, " Highly Reusable Space Transportation: Strategies that may enable $200/kg transportation to Earth orbit", Proceedings of SPS 97: Energy and Space for Humanity, Paper no S7088.
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  8. P Collins, July 17, 2003, "Space Tourism Market Demand and the Transportation Infrastructure", Invited speech to the AIAA/ICAS Symposium The Next 100 Years in honour of the Wright Brothers' first flight, July 17, 2003, Dayton Ohio; also at archive/space_tourism_market_demand_and_ the_transportation_infrastructure.shtml
  9. T Rogers, 2003, " The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 (as amended): Some Observations Concerning the Departure of Our Civil Space Program from this Law Over the Past 10-12 Years And the Results to the Program From so Doing", Sophron Foundation, July 12.
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  11. P Collins, 1999, "Space Activities, Space Tourism and Economic Growth", Proceedings of Second ISST; also at archive/space_activities_space_tourism_and_economic_growth.shtml
  12. P Collins, 1998, "Tourism in Low Earth Orbit: The Trigger for Commercial Lunar Development?", Proceedings of Space '98, ASCE, pp 752-756; also at archive/tourism_in_low_earth_orbit_the_ trigger_for_commercial_development.shtml
  14. J Bates, 2003, "Space Entrepreneurs Starry-Eyed Over Potential of Space Tourism", Space News, Vol 14, No 28, p 20-21.
  15. R Heinlein, 1957, " Menace from Earth", Fantasy House Inc.
  16. P Collins & M Graham, 1994, " Human flapping-wing flight under reduced gravity", Aeronautical Journal, May 1994, pp 177 - 184.
  17. P Collins, T Fukuoka & T Nishimura, 2000, "Orbital Sports Stadium", Proceedings of Space 2000, ASCE, pp 604-616; also at archive/orbital_sports_stadium.shtml
  18. P Collins, 2002, "Meeting the Needs of the New Millennium: Passenger Space Travel and World Economic Growth", Space Policy, Vol 18, No 3, pp 183-97; also at archive/meeting_the_needs_of_the_new_millennium_passenger_space_ travel_and_world_economic_growth.shtml
  19. D Criswell, 2002, " Characteristics of Commercial Power Systems to Support a Prosperous Global Economy", Acta Astronautica, Vol 51, No 1-9, pp 173-179.
  20. M Nagatomo, 1992, personal communication.
  21. M Hoffert et al, 1998, " Energy Implications of Future Stabilisation of Atmospheric CO2 Content", Nature, Vol 395, pp 881-884.
  22. M Hoffert et al, 2002, " Advanced Technology Paths to Global Climate Stability: Energy for a Greenhouse Planet", Science, Vol 298, pp 981-987.
P Collins, 21 November 2003, "The Future of Lunar Tourism", Invited speech, International Lunar Conference, Waikoloa, Hawaii, 21 November 2003.
Also downloadable from future of lunar tourism.shtml

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