9 November 2004
Publications - Tourism (Good)
NSS Position Statement on Space Tourism
This is no “far-out” scheme
by G B Leatherwood
By G.B. Leatherwood

George Whitesides, Executive Director of the National Space Society (NSS), grinned from ear to ear as he floated in the weightless moments during the first commercial zero-g flight. Earlier, after the first successful flight of Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, he told Space.com Staff Writer Tariq Malik (Space.com, 9/30/04), "It’s going to transform everything. This is an unbelievable bumper year for human spaceflight."

To that end, the NSS has recently released its latest Position Statement: "Space Tourism: Opening the Space Economy."

In it, NSS reiterates its position that "The National Space Society (also) believes that space tourism will provide opportunities to advance the aerospace disciplines and reduce the cost of all space activities (including exploration and settlement).

The NSS said, "The earth-based tourism industry is a trillion-dollar industry." Surveys indicate a wide personal interest in space tourism with people willing to spend upwards of a month’s salary to visit space once. "Clearly, this is not a ‘far-out’ scheme without connection to earthly reality--space tourism will expand an already thriving industry into a new and potentially lucrative arena."

One group of people that space tourism appeals to is extreme sports fans. Extreme sports are dangerous sports, such as snowboarding and skateboarding, which tests ones skill while delivering a jolt of adrenaline. These aficionados will enjoy breaking new ground on newly christened spacecraft. “Others will seek the sensations of both high acceleration and zero gravity—much like roller coaster enthusiasts,” according to Whitesides, who believes that braving new heights is part of the attraction of space tourism.

Whitesides said, "This isn’t like flying airplanes or United. What they [Scaled Composites] are doing is hard. Space is risky, and somewhere, sometime, over the next 10 years, we have to expect things are not always going to go well. We have to be ready for that."

Then there is the luxury tourist market. Although it is a fact that space tourism will remain expensive for some time, there are those who will pay. Not only multimillionaires can foot the bill. Space tourism will soon be affordable by those who would usually pay for two weeks at Disney World, at a first-class around-the-world tour, or for membership in an exclusive country club. "Space itself," the NSS’s position statement said, "followed by an eventual orbital hotel, could be the ultimate getaway in the next decade."

Unfortunately, the commercial space market hasn’t been large enough to attract private investment in the technologies needed to lower the cost of access to space. Consumer demand for space launch services would require aerospace companies to develop reusable, highly reliable spacecraft. However, U.S. market share of commercial space launches has dropped from 100% in the early 1970s to around 30% today. (Satellite Industry Association. "Satellite Industry Statistics 2002.") That percentage will continue to drop as Europe, Russia, Japan, and China develop their own rocket systems.

Another problem: the engineers and scientists who sent Americans to the moon are retiring, or sadly, dying off. NASA’s over-60 staff outnumbers its under-30 staff three to one, and there are no signs of replacement on the horizon. And those are only the employment and investment sides of the problem.

The other major side of the problem is that the (US) government has a natural interest in regulating this new industry, as any other industry. And here the NSS position paper makes its strongest statement:

"But the largest mistake the government could make, and the quickest way to strangle the space tourism industry before it is off the ground, would be to apply the sort of stringent safety standards that are appropriate for a more mature transportation technology. Even today," the paper continues, "more than a hundred years after the first automobiles, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death in the United States for persons between the ages of four and thirty-three. Boats are one of the oldest forms of transportation on earth, yet in each year since 1961 (the first year in which statistics were kept), boating accidents have claimed the lives of more than 800 people per year in the U.S. alone. If mature transportation technologies are not completely safe, it would be complete folly to expect that space transportation, still in its infancy, will be without accidents and deaths. There will be no substitute for experience, with all its painful lessons, to make space transportation safer over time."

The paper concludes, "Clearly the space tourism market exists, and the time has come to exploit it. It is time for the private sector to take the lead in expanding the frontiers of human possibility and for the government to return to its role as incubator of innovative technologies. We believe that private sector ingenuity applied to government research goals can revolutionize space travel and bring our nation back to its pioneering heritage of exploring new frontiers."

From this Position Statement it seems clear that the NSS, from its position as a grass roots space advocate, is fully supportive of space tourism. For the full text of this Position Statement with all references, read it here.

The NSS is an independent, international, educational grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to the creation of a space-faring civilization. The NSS has a vision of people living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth. Its members promote change in social, technical, economic, and political conditions to advance the day when people will live and work in space.

For personal comments, SFJ asked members of the NSS Policy Committee, authors of the Position Paper, about the process of drafting and publishing positions and the process of delivering these occasional statements to legislators, the press, and Society members. The questions, and a summary of the answers, follow:

SFJ: What is the interest of NSS in space tourism?

NSS: [The NSS] will promote interest in space generally and it will stimulate development of much lower-cost technologies.

SFJ: Why did the Policy Committee believe it was necessary to issue a policy paper at this time?

NSS: NSS, as the pre-eminent grass roots space organization, should be in the forefront of commenting and explaining to the public the significance of all major space events. Also, each bit of public exposure improves our ability to fulfill our mission.

As a matter of fact, NSS has stated its support of space tourism over a number of years in a number of ways. We continue to support the expansion of private industry in partnership with government activities, and participate in many events around the country and the world highlighting achievements in the exploration of space.

SFJ: Do key legislators and administration figures get these position papers?

NSS: We try to get our positions to key legislators and administration figures, but unfortunately not as regularly as we would like. We are going to continue to improve our effectiveness, especially since one of the primary motivators of the Society was to influence public policy.
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G B Leatherwood 9 November 2004
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