Space: For Scientists or Tourists?
As humanity and technology advances, we have begun to see space travel being expanded to numerous people outside of scientists with the idea of space tourism. However, is space meant to be just another outlet for consumerism, abandoning its scientific roots, or could this truly leave a positive effect?
by Maanas Shah
In recent years we have seen the prospect of Space Travel be no longer confined to just sci-fi, but instead, a reality for humanity. With companies such as SpaceX and NASA advancing science with their inventions, a new field was discovered. Space Tourism. No longer is space only for scientific purposes, but for humanity as a whole. Companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic aim to expand the travel industry to the final frontier.
However, is this expansion really the best idea? Space is already becoming increasingly cluttered with commercial satellites, and there's currently a tangible effect on astronomical processes. Furthermore, tensions around who should be allowed to operate in these regions are rising as some countries militarize space. Others debate on the industrialization of space with asteroid mining. Is bringing consumerism to space through allowing space tourism a good idea? Meanwhile, scientists still claim space is a frontier for science only, while others believe in the futility of funding research in the first place.
With all these conflicting stances, who deserves to operate among the stars? In this article, we’ll be focusing on the two most flushed out parties in this debate: the established scientific front and the rising commercial giants and whether space travel should be opened up to consumers or not, or if both parties could reach a compromise?
For Space Tourism:
Space tourism may not bring far-reaching, profound effects like scientific advancements, but it still has its own benefits. People often scoff at the idea of a corporation's profits actually benefiting the general public, but this is exactly how it would play out in the real world. Additionally, the revenue brought to a company could ultimately be used to advance scientific research in the long run as well.
First, let’s talk about the economic benefits and how they affect people beyond just the company heads. According to the University of Central Florida, the tourism industry generated 7.2 trillion dollars and 284 million jobs in 2015. Now, of course, a large amount of this money is profits to the company, but still, a lot of it is also stimulating the economy, which would be a great benefit as we attempt to kickstart the economy after Covid-19. Additionally, we cannot overlook the number of jobs this would create, which would also get many people back on their feet, and would overall be great for the economy as a whole. Additionally, the profits could be put to good use as well. Suppose a company such as SpaceX or NASA, for instance, decided to open up to the commercial market.In that case, they could use the revenue obtained from this new stream to help fund their other scientific-focused projects, which NASA particularly would greatly benefit from as its budget continues to shrink over the years.
Additionally, while being applied for different goals, space tourism would still need to use much of the same technology that scientific inventions would use as well, allowing for further advancements in this field. Commercial competition has led to some of the most advanced technology we have today. Take the computer or phone markets, for example. Each year, each company comes out with a new and improved model that can do more than before, and this trend would similarly affect space travel as well. Scientific advancements could and would be made faster and more effective with competition in this sort of way, further showing the benefits of space tourism and its link back to the field of science.
Against Space Tourism:
However, with the benefits above being said, there are some other factors we must consider. While profits from tourism could theoretically help space travel if NASA or SpaceX did it, it’s much more unlikely for Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin to make these contributions as they are strictly for-profit enterprises. Additionally, because they are for-profit it’s unsure whether these companies would even be willing to share scientific gatherings or technological advancements with scientists without a price.
Another severe issue to consider as concerns about climate change mount is the sustainability of the industry. While it’s not as big of a deal for NASA or SpaceX since they use rockets sparingly and for scientific advancements, opening up a constant stream of commercial tourism rockets could have massively adverse impacts on the environment. The tourism industry already has a huge carbon footprint as it stands (also according to the University of Central Florida), and adding rockets into the mix could result in one of the most unsustainable industries on the planet.
A final thing to consider is that many of the companies pushing for space tourism are solely motivated by profit. A clear-cut example of this is the recent lawsuit by Blue Origin V. NASA. Though the details are still coming out, in short Blue Origin sued NASA because they didn’t give them a contract for a lunar lander project. They instead had given this to SpaceX, who has partnered with NASA for its scientific journeys several times before as well. It’s clear that Blue Origin isn’t suing to be a part of science, but rather for the profit that would come from this contract. Amidst this ongoing legal battle, NASA has been forced to stop their current scientific work with SpaceX as they try to resolve the situation. This further begs the question of if for-profit corporations should really be allowed to extend consumerism to space, possibly impeding scientific operations in the process.
Allow space tourism for only science-seeking companies:
Though there are many ways to view the debate around the allowance of space tourism, there is a compromise that could possibly draw on both scientific and economic benefits. The simple answer would be to allow space tourism, but only for science-seeking companies, such as NASA and possibly SpaceX, who are also interested in advancing research at the same time. This would bring about the economic benefits of creating such a large industry while maintaining the scientific advancements that space is known for and limiting the unsustainability of the action. It may be easy to dismiss either side as simply being unfeasible sci-fi research or just mindless entertainment, but ultimately each side brings with it its own benefits that should be thoroughly considered.