While a ride to, from, or on the $100 billion International Space Station may be almost priceless, four minutes of space tourism will only set you back $200K.
So what will space tourism mean for scientific researchers? Less expensive and more available access to space, even though the planned apogee is only going to be about 62 miles above the earth with the aforementioned duration limited to about 240 seconds.
Still, as the New York Times reports, the Southwest Research Institute’s Alan Stern is on board:
“We have built, on our own dime, three payloads,” Dr. Stern said. “We’re buying tickets, before there is a government program from suborbital providers, for our own people to fly with those experiments.”
I might offer the ‘on our own dime’ statement is perhaps subject to interpretation: SwRI exists to benefit government, industry and the public through innovative science and technology. They likely don’t benefit government, industry, or the public on their own dime any more than NPR, the National Park Service, or the Department of Defense does.
And while Dr. Stern may think “We’re really at the edge of something transformational,” my questions would be:
1. Transforming from what to what?
2. For what purpose?
So while space tourism may hold great promise, let’s be honest about all this: whether it’s the Southwest Research Institute or another space tourism customer, the National Science Foundation (a less ambiguous and wholly US government organization), the U.S. taxpayer will be underwriting the scientific endeavor somewhere along a continuum between “some” and “all.”
And hopefully we’re getting the space tourism government rate.