Astronaut skepticism about space tourism

While many astronauts have spoken favorably of space tourism, a couple of current and former astronauts recently were more skeptical. In a speech this week in Pensacola, Florida, former astronaut Kathryn Sullivan turned “sarcastic”, noting the costs of orbital spaceflight:

When it came to space tourism, Sullivan’s tone turned sarcastic.

It costs $10,000 for each pound lifted into space, which would equate to $60,000 to take a gallon of water, let alone a tourist, she said.

“She doesn’t beat around the bush,” said Ken Ford, chief executive officer of the [Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition].

It’s true that launch costs are high today, but she ignores the fact that five people have either flown in space, or have signed up to do so, at a cost of about $20 million each, even at today’s prices. If companies like SpaceX carry through on their promises to lower launch costs to something like $1,000 per pound, it will only increase the size of the market. reports that astronaut Scott Kelly took part in an online chat organized by the British tabloid The Sun. As you might expect from such a paper, the topic of aliens came up, but so did space tourism:

Interestingly, Kelly doesn’t see the attraction in space tourism, especially the future plans to set up permanent hotels in space and on the moon.

‘A few Russians have spent more than a year in space. As far as people spending their whole lives there, it may happen some day, but I would wonder why.

‘Space is a pretty hostile environment, even within the confines of a shuttle. You have to deal with effects of radiation and you have to deal with the effects of weightlessness.

‘I know people are reserving seats with Virgin Galactic, but they are sub-orbital flights that only last a few minutes.

Either Kelly or the reporter seems to have conflated tourism (temporary trips to space) with settlement (permanent migration to space). A lot of people like to visit places, but don’t necessarily want to live there. (Recall the saying, “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to stay there”?) And there is a niche of people who, for a variety of reasons, would not mind settling down in orbit, the Moon, or beyond.

2 comments to Astronaut skepticism about space tourism

  • Chance

    Like I’ve said a million times, for an organization that supposedly has such a “can do” attitude a lot of it’s people seem to have a “can’t or shouldn’t do” attitude on personal spaceflight. I find it so incredibly ironic that an astronaut can’t see the appeal of space tourism. What the heck did he go up for? The pay and health plan? Why would anyone want to live in the Outback, or the Sahara? People do it though.

  • I don’t think current or former astronauts are the right “experts” to talk about space tourism. They are members of a select group of people who are lucky enough to have the combination of the correct interests, expertise, skills, personality, timing, age, and nationality to get paid by their government go into space. However, being a member of that select few does not make them the only people interested in going in to space. They aren’t the target audience of space tourism — it would be just as hard for a non-golfer like me to understand why someone would spend $1000 on a golf club (even when they’re no good at golf) but they do.

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