By Aditya Kapur
Space tourism signals the opening of a new frontier of space exploration- it allows us, non- scientists, non-astronauts, to travel to outer space and explore the vast cosmos of which we are but a tiny speck. The project was started by the Russian Federal Space Agency in the late-1990s. In 1997,
NASA had published an article discussing the grave impossibilities of sending largely untrained civilians into space and that such projects would be extremely expensive, the costs running into billions of dollars. Over the past one and half decades, many have not only proven this idea wrong but
also taken great strides to make space tourism easier, more efficient and more accessible. Till date, seven space tourists have visited the International Space Station(ISS), the first being Denis Tito, an American businessman. He went for eight days in the year 2001 to the ISS using the
aircrafts Soyuz 31 and 32. The second was Mark Shuttleworth in 2002. He was followed by Greg Olsen in 2005, Anousheh Ansari in 2006, the first female space tourist, Charles Simonyi in 2007, Richard Garriott in 2008, and Guy Laliberte in 2009. Unfortunately, the Russians stopped flights in
2010 due to the size of the crew in the ISS.
Various organizations are working on projects to revive the industry and send space tourist. Elon Musk’s Space-X has been working for over a decade on the Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules. Overcoming multitudinous setbacks, the company has achieved many laurels, successfully achieving the first re-launch and landing of a used orbital rocket and the the first controlled flyback and recovery of a payload fairing by the Falcon 9 launch vehicle earlier this year. The company is now working on a Moon loop trajectory flight, a flight Musk feels can be achieved by end-2018. American aircraft manufacturer Boeing is constructing the CST-100 that will regularly take civilians to space. Space Adventures is working on the DSE-Alpha spacecraft. Hotel Tycoon Robert Bigelow is working upon habitable capsules Genesis-1 and Genesis-2 which are being made and tested.
Virgin Galactic is a spacecraft company developing spacecraft for suborbital spaceflights for tourists and scientists. It is a venture of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin group. Its SpaceShipTwo spacecraft takes 6 people, lasts two and a half hours, travels at a speed of Mach3 and reaches a
height of 360,000 feet (109.73 kilometers/69.18 miles). In October 2014, the VSS Enterprise spacecraft crashed in the Mojave Desert. Nevertheless, the company is determined to take its first commercial flight next year.
The environmental impact of such flights is much less known: a study has shown that if from any one location 1000 hybrid rockets are launched, 600 tonnes of black carbon will be discharged into the stratosphere. Hence, temperatures will decrease by 0.4 degrees Celsius in the Tropics and Sub-Tropics and temperatures will increase by 0.2 to 1.0 degrees Celsius in the Poles. The Ozone Layer will decrease by 1.7% in the southern hemisphere and the poles will gain 5-6% . Space Tourism indeed is a scientific marvel, it symbolises the very extent to which we can extend our scientific knowledge, combining our curiosity and knowledge of space with economic viability. Yet, it poses a pressing moral dilemma before us: Should we endanger a Global Warming- affected Planet Earth in pursuit of our scientific endeavours and passions?