27 January 1999
Media - Tourism (None)
NASA Administrator Uses the "T word" - Official
by Patrick Collins
The November/December 1998 issue of "STA Spacetrans", the newsletter of the Space Transportation Association, describes the first time that a NASA Administrator spoke out formally and positively in public about space tourism.

On September 23 Mr Goldin testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space, and said that in his "Vision for the Future" space tourism would soon become affordable.

This is very welcome, and represents a significant advance in his thinking. However, without wishing to be churlish, it falls well short of the frank acknowledgment that making space accessible to the general public should be the first and urgent priority of space development activities for which Space Future is waiting. Nevertheless, it represents additional progress that can be chalked up for 1998, the best year yet.

"STA Spacetrans" also noted that Mr Goldin repeated this remark before the House Subcommittee on Science on October 1, and during NASA's 40th Anniversary Gala in Washington, D.C. on October 16 he said that in a few decades there will be "...a thriving tourist industry on the Moon."

This too is welcome (and a considerable advance on his estimate of 50 years for a space hotel broadcast a year earlier). But in all honesty we should add "...little thanks to NASA". This is because, if Mr Goldin genuinely believes that lunar tourism is going to be a thriving business - and it most certainly is - then, if he was genuinely concerned to do his best for the American taxpayer (which he should be, shouldn't he, rather than for NASA stakeholders?) he would immediately establish a group within NASA to work on how to bring this highly desirable new field of economic activity to reality as soon as possible.

Instead of that Mr Goldin oversees the spending of $14 billion every year on everything except making space accessible to the taxpayers who support him. And he's spending $50+ billion of US taxpayers' money on a space station that will be useful for little else except research aimed at sending some government researchers to Mars.

Important note: while lunar tourism is sure to become a major business, since a round-trip conveniently takes less than 1 week, and the technology needed is already 30 years old, Mars is 1 year away from Earth - and so will never become an economically significant tourist destination.

Note also that the cost of tourism in low Earth orbit will be much less than that of a trip to the Moon, and so is likely to grow into a large business before lunar tourism reaches a significant scale. However, there will be considerable synergy between low Earth orbit tourism and lunar development.

Mr Goldin is frequently praised for being a reforming Administrator of NASA. But even allowing for all the many constraints that prevent someone in his position from doing what they want, 3 passing mentions of tourism - coupled with no funding at all (out of $14 billion/year!) - hardly entitles him to claim to be a friend of the US taxpayer. Actions speak louder than words.

It's still an open question whether Mr Goldin will be recorded in history as the first NASA Administrator who embraced space tourism - or as the last one who held out against it. The choice is his.

Source: STA Spacetrans, November/December 1998

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Patrick Collins 27 January 1999
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