Will space tourism ever be affordable?

04 November 2019

EARTH-FROM-ISS

A picture of the Earth from the ISS space station

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Question

"Is space tourism actually feasible and sustainable? Just for the super-rich, or could it ever be a possibility for mortals?" 

Answer

Space science journalist Richard Hollingham took on this question...

Richard Hollingham - I guess for the super-rich. So, currently, tickets on Virgin Galactic will set you back two hundred fifty thousand dollars. It's a bit like what Peter was talking about. It's in early stages. It's going to get cheaper. It's never going to be that cheap but it might open the door to hypersonic travel from continent to continent. So you know a trip from London to Sydney say in just just a few hours, it might kickstart that sort of economy. There are few rivals out there, but all of them are kind of around that 200,000 dollar mark. I can't see it ever coming down a huge amount, but that said I think there is one important reason why it's good that the rich and powerful can do this because there's a lot of evidence that if you see the earth from space you get this idea of the earth without borders: you can suddenly see the whole environment. Actually, if we start sending presidents and - you know - CEOs of companies up there, they might help to change the world.

Chris Smith - About two or three months ago we sent a helium balloon to the edge of space. We got to 33 kilometres and we played people's screams - listeners to The Naked Scientists - we played their screams in space; but we also put two Huawei mobile phones in the box and took beautiful shots. We were joking, saying the people in Beijing had watched the footage before we got to see it! I'm sure that's not true, but we put these mobile phones in the box and got the most gorgeous footage of the earth from 33 kilometers up, and blackness of space compared to this amazing iridescent blue, and it really does look like a marble; honestly I've watched that footage I don't know how many times and it's awe-inspiring. So I know exactly where you're coming from.

Richard Hollingham - It's what the astronauts talk about, this thin blue line separating us from the void and it is just extraordinary. I think the more people that can see that and experience for real - it will make a substantial difference.

Chris Smith - So, if Mr. Branson phones up the Space Boffins podcast and says, "Richard, would you like to go into space?" What would you say?

Richard Hollingham - I think I would have to say that yes I would love to go but if, to preserve my marriage, I would have to say my co-presenter Sue Nelson - who is also my wife - she would so much love to go to space. 

Chris Smith - She's been on the Vomit Comet though! So she's got one over on you.

Richard Hollingham - You don't want to go into space, it's horrible!

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