Space is a dangerous and unforgiving place; not the usual selling points of a tourist destination. However, there are people who have paid in excess of $20 million to experience the wonders of space for themselves. Space tourism risks lives and requires millions of dollars of resources just for opulent tourists to say they have been there, done that. Should this be allowed?
The Positives of Space Tourism
Picture it: witnessing our Earth from outer space; feeling the enormous acceleration of a spacecraft; experiencing the sensation of weightlessness; seeing an unobstructed view of our universe. These otherworldly experiences shouldn’t be limited to a very select few. Currently, only around 500 people have been lucky enough to visit space. Space tourism would provide the opportunity for more and more people to experience the awe-inspiring wonder of space. Besides it being a once in a lifetime experience, travelling to space would allow valuable research to take place, helping us to understand some of the unknowns of the universe.
There is no doubt that setting up space tourism company requires a huge amount of investment. However, there are many investors who are interested in the space tourism industry. Influential businessmen, like Elon Musk and Richard Branson, have already contributed billions of dollars to help this sector expand. Space X, the company founded by Elon Musk, has already agreed to fly two ‘tourists’ around the moon as soon as next year. Space X directly thanks NASA on stating that “without whom this would not be possible”, showing how invested the American government is in private space exploration.
People may be concerned with the amount of money required for these companies. The question is, can space tourism generate profit towards the economy? As the space tourism industry becomes more commercialised, it will indirectly contribute to national economy. Basically, this newly developed industry will create more job opportunities and lead to growth within the aerospace sector.
Engineers and scientists will be attracted to companies linked to aerospace such as XCOR, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo research flights have already allowed NASA to conduct twelve experiments, such as asteroid formation. Another advantage of this technology is the relatively low cost of flying the reusable spacecraft to orbit, compared to the cost of launching a satellite from a rocket. Therefore, from an engineering viewpoint, the cost of developing this new technology is offset as it is reusable unlike the current systems used. This means that the space industry uses less finite resources.
As space tourism grows, low cost technologies will be developed, reducing the cost to travel into space. Although this experience is currently limited to the richest people, following the freedom principle, they can use their money to do whatever they wish. The money they are contributing is being used to develop our knowledge and test equipment that scientists don’t have the funding for. By reducing the cost to travel into space it also fulfils the utilitarian principle, allowing more people to benefit from space travel. Ultimately, in the future there will be opportunities for the average man, perhaps people will start to write ‘travel into outer space’ on their bucket list.
The Negatives of Space Tourism
Space tourism has already claimed one life, that of Virgin Galactic’s pilot Mike Alsbury. If you look at how many people have died either going to space or in the testing of the spacecraft, the number rises above 150. Considering that only around 550 people have been to space, it is an extremely dangerous place for untrained tourists. What is stopping companies from exploiting paying customers? Who will regulate how many customers are allowed to die?
Weightlessness may seem like one of the selling points of space tourism. However, this may cause serious harm to human bodies. Under the condition of zero gravity, our cardiovascular system is inefficient. It will increase blood flow to our head and chest, rather than distribute blood correctly throughout the body, which can lead to heart arrhythmia. Furthermore, two thirds of the International Space Station astronauts have reported that they have suffered from sight problem. NASA indicated that changes in the eyes were a response to microgravity, which is known as the visual impairment of intracranial pressure syndrome (VIIP) and is a current topic of research. This poses the question of whether space travel has the potential to do more harm to us than good.
More than 500,000 pieces of debris are being tracked by NASA as they travel around the earth at speeds nearing 20,000mph. In the best scenario, space tourism would only add to this vast number. However, should something go wrong, there is potential for a domino effect called the Kessler Syndrome (As portrayed in the film Gravity). It is a self-sustaining cascading collision of space debris, meaning that one collision would produce more debris leading to further collisions. This could lead to the destruction of satellites, meaning a hugely different life on earth – no satellite imagery, no long distant phone calls and even no GPS. This would play havoc on all forms of transport and logistics, not to mention the disruption it could have on the military.
Looking at space tourism from the Utilitarian perspective, it is easy to see that research into space travel has its benefits. However, the increased risk from tourism may not be worth the risk to the population, it might be better left to the experts. In terms of Virtue ethics, it puts companies in a dangerous position of power, instead of space exploration being government funded research missions to help mankind, it is now for financial gain. Should they be allowed to risk lives for their benefit?
- Ban space tourism, it should only be for experts
- Better regulation of space tourism
- More research into health risks before tourists are allowed
- Unrestricted space tourism
Group 58: Haziq Azmi, Syamim Zawari, Michael Foster, Miaosen Chen