Category Archives: Space Tourism

Middlebury Reacts to Space Tourism

SpaceX’s vintage-esque PR poster advertises the emergent ‘space tourism’ industury.

Humans are going back to the moon. On Monday, Feb. 27, the commercial space flight company SpaceX announced that they are sending two tourists around the moon late next year in a privately-crewed capsule. These tourists will be launched into space, where they will loop around the moon – but not land on it – and come back to Earth. The mission is estimated to take about a week.

It is still unknown who the tourists are and how much they are paying. They will be not the first space tourists; there have been seven space tourists before, each paying between 20 and 40 million dollars to the Russian government to send them up. However, none of these tourists ever went above Low Earth Orbit.

To gauge the perspective of students and faculty around the College, I interviewed Assistant Professor of Physics Eilat Glikman and had quick conversations with 12 Middlebury students about their thoughts on this event, as well as their feelings about space travel in general.

Glikman is an astrophysicist. Naturally, she is excited about this news. However, she is not excited that tourists can now pay to go into space. She hopes this event “won’t just create one more thing that rich people can do”.

“I think it’s the kind of thing that makes the news, and I think that kind of thing making the news definitely wakes people’s minds up and gets people excited,” she said.

Glikman mentioned the 1969 moon landing, which she said is in a weird way, “so far in the past, it’s almost like it didn’t happen.” People from our generation know that people have been on the moon, but have taken it for granted their whole lives. Tourists going to the moon in our lifetime could reawaken the excitement our grandparents felt when Neil Armstrong took those first extraterrestrial steps.

“I would hope that this sort of thing would push our nation to invest in more space exploration, from the NASA side,” added Professor Glikman. “Not to take away from the entrepreneurial aspect, but I think, at the end of the day, if you really want to break barriers, you need the kind of investment that isn’t driven by profit.”

She believes that governments need to take the risk and pave the way without monetary profit in mind. After that, commercial businesses can take over.

In her discussion, she drew a parallel to Lewis and Clark.

“After Lewis and Clark did their charting and mapping out of the West, you had migrations, you had people moving into those places…”

Glikman went on, however, to mention the current government’s lack of funding for NASA.

“It’s interesting to think of private industry saying [to the government], ‘we’re just not going to wait for you,’” she said. “So you have people like Elon Musk … eccentric Billionaires who are willing to take risks and kind of allow for those losses.”

Glikman mentioned the story of Richard Garriott as an example of the potential benefits of space tourism. Garriott was a space tourist who performed some scientific studies while aboard the ISS. Because of him, NASA was able to determine the effects of space on LASIK, the corrective eye surgery.

Some people today are drawing parallels between space – specifically Mars – and the New World in the 1400’s. When I asked Glikman whether or not she would agree with this, she seemed skeptical about the possibility of humans colonizing another planet.

“Mars is not a hospitable place,” she said. “We are components of an ecosystem; it’s not just that we need an atmosphere to breathe, we need food. Well, our food comes from plants that grow in the ground, and plants don’t just grow … our entire biological existence depends on other biological existences which depend on other ones, you can’t just pluck one out and plop it somewhere else … ecosystems don’t just sprout out of nowhere.”

While all these deterrents are valid, I have to mention that there are several theories for how Mars could successfully be made hospitable, though none of them are perfect.

Another part of space exploration that Glikman brought up was law. If people want to harvest an asteroid, “Who owns the asteroid?” Or, if people manage to colonize Mars, “Who owns Mars? Is that another country?” Glikman brought up these questions as interesting things to consider, stating openly that she “[doesn’t] have answers to any of them.”

Finally, I asked Glikman whether she would fly around the moon. She responded with a resounding no. Her answer was a personal preference, however, and she does not discourage other people from travelling into space. As an astronomer, she has seen some of the best night skies viewable on Earth. She describes those experiences as “existentially overwhelming.” She does not know how she would react if she saw the view from space. Moreover, she understands that the human body has evolved over billions of years to thrive on Earth. She would personally prefer to stay where humans are evolutionarily meant to be.

“I’ll let Hubble take my pictures for me,” she said.

I also talked to 12 somewhat random students around campus. Five of them had not heard that SpaceX was sending people to the moon. When I asked about whether they viewed this event as important to their lives, 10 answered yes, and two were more apathetic. All of the students were excited about the possibility of space travel. However, the two who were more apathetic stated that the money spent on going to the moon could be used for issues that humans are facing here on Earth. In rebuttal, one student mentioned that space travel pushes the advancement of technology, and thus is beneficial to current issues that Earth faces. There are scores of world changing technologies that were invented solely because of the world’s space programs.

Finally, I asked every student whether or not they would go to the moon if they did not have to pay. Every student but one answered yes. That one person said they are claustrophobic and would dislike being in such a cramped space. The rest of the students I asked were very enthusiastic, most saying yes in an instant.

Stephen Hawking To Travel To Space (At Last)

Stephen Hawking recently admitted in an interview with the Independent that his “ultimate ambition is to float in space.” The British astrophysicist, father of the study of black holes and always ready to make his science accessible to the public, suffers from Charcot’s disease, which prevents him from moving or communicating verbally.

© Jim Campbell/Aero-News Network/Wikimedia Commons

(Photo: Jim Campbell/Aero-News Network/Wikimedia Commons)

He thought he would never succeed going into space, but Richard Branson came to the rescue. The billionaire, president of Virgin and its subsidiary Virgin Galactic, has apparently offered the scientist a free return ticket to space, thus making his dream come true.

This does not mean that Stephen Hawking will fly to Earth orbit any time soon though, because although Richard Branson has been promising us space tourism since the time SpaceX was still a totally unknown start-up, the two companies have experienced diametrically opposite fates.

Whereas SpaceX has established itself as one of the most exciting technological challenges of our generation, Virgin Galactic has been cumulating disasters after disasters since 2009, the most spectacular of all being the crash of the SpaceShipTwo shuttle in 2014, that resulted in a death and another person seriously injured.

“He is the only person I have given a free ticket with Virgin Galactic”

Nevertheless, the company is still working on the development of a suborbital aircraft, the VSS Unity, capable of flying in low orbit at an altitude of 110 kilometers. This spacecraft would allow wealthy tourists to enjoy a view of the earth’s curvature.

The first free flights were successfully carried out in December 2016 and SpaceX announced it will send two tourists as anonymous as they are wealthy for a stroll in Lunar orbit in 2018.

Virgin Galactic has enlisted Stephen Hawking to become its mascot and, we must admit, it is quite the promotional coup. Although for now neither the company nor Richard Branson has confirmed the physicist’s comments, there is every reason to believe that they are true, Richard Branson having declared in 2015 that “he is the only person I have given a free ticket with Virgin Galactic, and he is signed up to fly as a Future Astronaut with us if his health permits it.”

Let’s hope that the astrophysicist’s health will hold (he’s been living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis for several decades now), and also that Virgin Galactic will quickly come up with a reliable ship. We really want to see Stephen Hawking, the symbol of human resilience, defy space (after his brush with parabolic flight in 2007).

Read More – >  SpaceX Aims To Take Tourists Around The Moon By 2018

Science, data, culture et galéjades. Internet est mon église.

Stephen Hawking is making plans to travel into space

Stephen Hawking has booked a ticket to space. The renowned theoretical physicist announced that he’s accepted Richard Branson’s invitation to board a flight on a future Virgin Galactic trip to space. 

Hawking revealed the news in an interview on ITV’s “Good Morning Britain.” He said that while his three children brought him “great joy” throughout his life, the next milestone that would make him happy now would be “to travel in space.” 

“I have already completed a zero-gravity flight which allowed me to float, weightless,” Hawking said. “But my ultimate ambition is to fly into space. I thought no one would take me, but Richard Branson has offered me a seat on Virgin Galactic and I said ‘yes’ immediately.”

Branson’s company has not announced how Hawking, who has a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which has gradually paralyzed him since his initial diagnosis at age 21, will make the journey. Any trip to the stars would likely be some years in the future since Virgin Galactic has not made any set plans for the start of regular commercial flights to space. 

The company received an operating license for “space tourism” from the Federal Aviation Administration last year, but is still in the testing phase for its SpaceShipTwo spacecraft that it hopes will ultimately introduce commercial space flights for civilians.

Virgin boss Richard Branson is taking Stephen Hawking to space

If seems fitting that one of the first passenger flights to leave our atmosphere will be taking Stephen Hawking, a man that has spent his life speculating what our cosmos holds and how it works.

The influential physicist and cosmologist yesterday told Good Morning Britain that Richard Branson would be taking aboard him Virgin Galactic, Branson’s space tourism company.

“I thought no one would take me,” Hawking said on the TV show. “Richard Branson has offered me a seat on Virgin Galactic, and I said yes immediately.”

When this will happen is anyone’s guess. Branson originally promised future Virgin Galactic passengers (who’d pre-purchased $200,000 tickets) that they’d launch all the way back in 2009. The project has since been plagued with delays and problems, mostly notably the widely reported crash of VSS Enterprise following a test flight in 2014.

Their new space ship, VSS Unity, completed its first test flight within Earth’s atmosphere in December last year. A ticket on a future Virgin Galactic flight costs $250,000. 

Images and video: Virgin Galactic

Russia's private space travel company plans to create launch pad at Baikonur

MOSCOW, March 14. /TASS/. Russia’s private company CosmoCourse, having ambitious plans for space tourism in Russia, is in talks with Russia’s space corporation Roscosmos and the center responsible for operating ground space infrastructures over plans for creating its own launch pad at the Baikonur space site in Kazakhstan, CosmoCourse chief Pavel Pushkin told TASS.

“We have been offered to use several older launch pads, mothballed a while ago, or to build new infrastructures. There was also a proposal for using the Vostochny spaceport, but we need unpopulated desert areas to make landings,” Pushkin said.

Previously, some proposed using the Kapustin Yar proving ground in the Astrakhan Region.

Pushkin says the company hopes to make 115 launches a year.

“In the end we will have about 700 space tourists a year, provided one spaceship seats six,” he said. Pushkin is certain there are enough wealthy people around the world capable of paying $200 million – $250 million for a space flight. According to the company’s website, the first suborbital flight may take place in 2021.

According to earlier reports, CosmoCourse is working on a reusable spacecraft for suborbital space flights. According to the plan a crew of six passengers and one instructor will be able to make a 15-minute flight at an altitude of 180-220 kilometers. The period of zero gravity will last five to six minutes.

Private companies, such as Blue Origin, founded by the US online retailer Amazon Jeff Bezos, and Virgin Galactic, owned by British multimillionaire Richard Branson, are known to be working on similar projects.

In 2015 Blue Origin made a successful soft landing of the first stage of the New Shepard rocket. It is in the process of designing both a capsule and booster for space tourism. The capsule will seat a crew of six.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo will accommodate six passengers and two pilots. It will be launched with the WhiteKnightTwo plane.

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The Second Moon Race

The US and China are in an undeclared race back to the Moon.

At first glance it’s easy to dismiss China’s efforts as being little more than what the US and Russia achieved decades ago. And while the pace of China’s manned launches has been slow with over a year in many cases between launches; looks can be deceptive and China has achieved each critical step towards building a permanent space station within the next few years. Meanwhile, its overall space program builds out each critical element to support regular manned space operations.

At the same time, the US continues to pursue its own mix of military, science and civil space operations. Compared to every other national space program the US leads by such a distance it’s hard to imagine its achievements being eclipsed anytime soon.

Among the so called space community there are several groupings. Some are traditional in outlook and view the space program in purely military and or scientific terms. And while there is obviously a healthy commercial space industry – the focus here has been entirely on Earth orbit platforms such as communications and earth observation satellites.

As is well known, another group has emerged over the past 20 years and is often described as New Space. With an initial focus on space tourism, this has expanded to asteroid mining and the colonization of Mars.

Having closely followed these developments the one clear conclusion is how little has actually occurred with these dreams. Despite the regular round of space conferences and the like, the same dreams are repeated over and over. And the years keep on passing by with little to show for their efforts.

Despite a flurry of space tourist flights to the ISS, no private paying passenger has ridden a Soyuz to the ISS since 2009. Virgin Galactic remains Earth bound, while nearly every other company selling space tourist dreams has folded. The only near term contender is WorldView, which plans to launch balloons to the upper stratosphere that will enable long duration flights to an altitude where the illusion of being in space is about as real as you can get without actually flying a 100km ballistic mission profile.

SpaceX is often portrayed as the great game changer. And, like Blue Origin, both companies have embraced new computer based design methodologies that have significantly sped up rocket engine development while also reducing costs. But Blue Origin has yet to launch a single payload into space, and SpaceX is wholly dependent on traditional customers such as NASA and the large commercial satellite communication operators.

SpaceX’s recent announcement of a cis-lunar mission faces no significant obstacles and may achieve its goal of launching two paying customers by 2018 – but there is no shortage of industry observers who seriously doubt that this timeframe is realistic and expect the launch date to slip to 2019/2020 and even longer.

For now, the real action will remain with the government space programs of the US, Russia, the EU, China and India.

Given NASA’s recent history of attempting to develop a new heavy lift launcher only to abandon yet another program after spending billions, it’s been easy to dismiss the Space Launch System as just another make work program for Alabama.

Frequently derided as the Senate Launch System, in honor of its government backers in the US Senate, there is far more to this than many realize.

That the SLS is so strongly backed by the US Senate, should point to what the real objective of the SLS program actually is.

The stated reason has been to travel and land on a passing asteroid and achieve a significant “space first” that would obviously play well for national prestige. And while this may be one of its mission objectives, the obvious similarities to the Saturn 5 launcher should make it clear why the Senate has so readily backed the SLS program. Namely as a ready-to-go launcher for an Apollo Redux should China show any intention or, more importantly, near-term capability of sending humans back to the Moon.

Despite the dreams and aspirations of so many across New Space national prestige is what drives the civil space programs today as much as it has done for the past 60+ years.

China would be delighted to be the second nation to make it to the moon in what would be an entirely new achievement that would signal to the world that China was the new Superpower to respect and aspire to.

The US Senate has, in my opinion, long understood the realpolitik of this and for this reason demanded that NASA develop the SLS program as an undeclared back up plan that could be readily sped up when China begins to make its play for a manned mission to the lunar surface.

Within the framework of global superpower politics – the US cannot allow China to land humans on the Moon before the US returns.

For China to be landing people on the Moon while the US can’t even launch its own astronauts to the ISS, would be a global projection of power that would be immensely damaging to US prestige and power.

It would appear that this intersection of superpower politics has been communicated to President Trump and the undeclared race back to the Moon is fast becoming a reality.

Elon Musk has sought to deal SpaceX into the game with the CIS-Lunar mission. China has now responded with a flurry of well placed stories in its domestic media about its own manned Lunar program. And all of sudden everyone is talking about sending humans back to the moon.

In response, the Mars or Bust crowd has begun complaining that this is all a distraction that will make the “Journey to Mars” an even more distant prospect than what it is now. And that only private enterprise can make us a space faring species.

The reality though is that the space tourism industry has achieved next to nothing of what it has promised over the past 15 years. The asteroid miners are just paper projects that fill in slots for the conference circuit and are decades away from recovering any minerals from an asteroid for commercial purposes.

Comparisons to the age of discovery of the 16th and 17th centuries are usually best taken with a grain of salt given the sailing ships of those times had a functioning biosphere readily at hand and actual gravity to support them, along with complete radiation protection and an endless supply of cheap labor and food.

However, there is one aspect that can be reasonably compared – and that is time. It took decades and in some cases centuries for the full potential of the new world to be exploited in any significant way. Moreover, spaceflight and terrestrial flight are not the same. They are separated by many orders of magnitude in cost and energy. It is therefore entirely unsurprising that we are only where we are now with space exploration and development. Logically, this will change over the coming decades, but it will take far longer than most are prepared to accept.

In the meantime, the Second Moon Race has begun, and will be readily embraced by NASA and its private industry contractors, be they legacy or new space.

SPACE TRAVEL

Orion spacecraft achieves key safety milestone
Redmond WA (SPX) Mar 03, 2017
Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc., recently completed hot-fire acceptance testing of eight auxiliary engines that will be used on the first flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft with the Space Launch System rocket, slated to launch in 2018. Orion’s European Service Module (ESM), which remains connected to the spacecraft throughout the mission until just prio … read more

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Space tourism – everything you need to know about taking a trip into space

Taking a trip to outer space might be the stuff of sci-fi for most of us, but soon it could be a viable holiday destination.

A number of companies are offering to take tourists on a trip to space. While the fares are suitably astronomical, no scientific qualifications are needed, although you may have to undergo fitness tests and training ahead of your flight. Interested in signing up? Read on for all you need to know.

What is space tourism?

It’s exactly what it sounds like – space travel for the man or woman in the street. Soon it won’t only be Nasa-trained astronauts who can experience the wonder of space travel, but us mere mortals too. You won’t need any science qualifications either, as a fully-trained crew will be on hand to make sure your journey goes smoothly.

Who is involved in space tourism flights?

A few different companies are pioneering space tourism. The most well-known is probably Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which has been talking about taking civilians to space for years now. More recently, SpaceX – started by Elon Musk, co-founder of the Tesla electric car company – has vowed to take two tourists on a trip around the moon. Then there’s Blue Origin, which was founded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Virgin Galactic 'SpaceShipTwo'

Is there any history of space tourism?

Throughout the early 2000s, the Russian Space Agency took seven paying members of the public into space. It cancelled the programme in 2010 when the end of Nasa’s Space Shuttle programme meant the US agency needed seats aboard Russian flights to send its astronauts to the International Space Station.

[Read more: Kit you need to be a stargazer]

So what’s different this time around?

While the Russian Space Agency let a handful of ‘space tourists’ join flights that were already planned, Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Blue Origin are all private companies, set up with the sole purpose of taking members of the public into space. These companies’ flights will be purely for tourism purposes, and promise to take a much more diverse bunch of people out of Earth’s atmosphere.

When does space tourism begin?

SpaceX has announced it will fly two paying tourists around the moon in 2018. The lucky pair have already paid a deposit, and will undergo fitness tests and start training later this year. “Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal spirit of exploration,” the firm said in a blog post.

Space X Dragon

What is the cost of space tourism?

As you can imagine, it’s not going to be cheap. The companies involved won’t reveal how much a flight will cost, but it’s thought to be in the tens of millions of dollars.

Virgin Galactic requires an up-front deposit of over £200,000 ($250,000) for a ‘seat to space’ and ‘membership of the Future Astronaut community’.

But there’s hope that the price will come down over time, as the technology becomes more advanced and less expensive to run.

[Read more: Nasa is developing a ‘quiet’ supersonic passenger that could be ready to fly by 2020]

What are the spacecraft like?

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (above) launches from an altitude of 50,000 feet, which it’s taken to by a four-engine, dual-fuselage jet aircraft called WhiteKnightTwo. SpaceShip Two is a winged spacecraft that can carry up to eight people (including two pilots).

SpaceX’s craft is called Dragon. In 2012, it became the only commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (the others have all been launched by governments), which you can check out in the video below. But it was designed from the start to carry people.

Like SpaceX, Blue Origin’s New Shepard (below) is more of your standard rocket that takes off and lands vertically. Its interior capsule is 530 cubic feet – that’s big enough for six astronauts, with ample space for the obligatory weightless somersaults. It also claims to have the biggest windows of any spacecraft, which should help when you’re taking in the view.

How can you become a space tourist?

“What’s exciting is that anyone can go, as long as they’re physically fit,” says Tamela Maciel from the National Space Centre in Leicester.

While Virgin Galactic doesn’t reveal the identities of its ‘Future Astronauts’, as it calls them, it does give us some details. Ages vary between 10 and 90 years old, they come from diverse backgrounds, speak a variety of languages and practice a huge range of professions. The only thing they have in common is a desire to go to space.

Why not apply to be a Future Astronaut yourself? 

Blue Origin 'New Shepard'

What will space tourism be like?

You’ll need to brace yourself, as space travel is quite demanding physically. “In the first 24 hours you feel really nauseous and dizzy,” Maciel says. “You don’t know which way is up. You’re trying to adjust to floating around, you feel all the blood in your head because it’s not being pulled down by gravity, you feel really disoriented. But it’s amazing how quickly the body adjusts.”

Then when you get back to Earth, you’ll feel very heavy – astronauts returning from long stays on the ISS say just holding their heads up is an effort because their neck muscles haven’t had to work for months. But if you’re only up there a short while, readjusting to life on Earth shouldn’t be too hard.

Thankfully the fitness tests and training schedule the companies put you through should prepare you for all this. All that’s left is to sit back and enjoy the view.

Read more: How to photograph the stars

Photo credit: SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic