TO THE STARS!
Space has always been the domain of astronauts, rocket scientists, and assorted “experts” who have the “Right Stuff.” NASA has guarded the gates of space like jealous priests before the temple, where only those judged worthy may pass. Only a few hundred people have traveled in space, but millions dream of it. When Pan Am announced its “First Flights to the Moon” Club in 1968, more than 93,000 people signed up.
Now it’s 2000, and the Pan Am Club and the orbiting hotels imagined in “2001: A Space Odyssey” have faded out of social consciousness. For regular folks like us, our best bet of getting a ride in space is getting beamed up by aliens.
That all changed for me a little over twenty years ago when I discovered there was a way for someone like me to get into space, and I could even help make it happen. I joined the L5 Society and became a “space activist.” The L5 Society was a grassroots organization dedicated to establishing permanent, orbiting space settlements, where tens of thousands of people — whole families — would live and work and play. The term “L5” refers to a location in the Earth-Moon system where the colonies may be located.
Based on research by NASA and several universities in the mid-’70s, these space habitats would be self-sufficient, complete with earthlike environments (including simulated gravity), and would support the long-term settlement of a space-based workforce. From there, these communities would tap the vast resources beyond the Earth, from unlimited solar energy to the mineral wealth of the Moon and asteroids, even taking advantage of the microgravity environment.
It was a revelation! An epiphany! Here was a vision of space-based on communities, with all the people that make a community. Holy cow, here was a way that I — that anybody — could participate in opening the space frontier! John Glenn’s return mission to space certainly proved that, physically, virtually anyone could ride in space. (There is more G-force on Space Mountain at Disneyland(R) than launching the Space Shuttle.) Thanks to recent legislation in Congress, the prospects for free enterprise to do business in space are looking better than ever. Among these new space ventures, the most promising seems to be my personal favorite: Space Tourism.
It will probably be pricey at first, but money needn’t be a barrier either. Space tourism advocates, like Buzz Aldrin, are proposing lotteries, so even those who can’t afford full-price tickets might have the chance to go. His company, Starcraft Boosters, Inc., is focused on developing inexpensive rocket technology for passenger vehicles for a future space tourism industry. He’s a firm believer that the success of our future in space depends on opening the space frontier to as many people as possible, as soon as possible.
The self-funding aspects of space tourism are making it extremely attractive to a number of entrepreneurs. Space tourism has the potential to be a multi-billion-dollar industry. Even if you don’t go as a tourist, maybe you’ll find a job in space! Space tourism may be the key to creating a foothold in space as an interim step to long-term commercial activity in space, on the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
Everyone who has ever flown in space has returned transformed. If not a spiritual transformation, certainly a transformation in awareness of the Earth, its grandeur — its terrifying fragility. It’s a transformation for which our self-absorbed, indifferent society is starving. We need to believe in our dreams again, the stars are beckoning us, a new frontier is waiting. It’s an opportunity to transcend territorial boundaries. On one Space Shuttle mission, one astronaut, Prince Sultan Bin Salmon Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia, recalled, “The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we pointed to our continents. By the fifth day, we were aware of only one Earth.”
Watch this column to find out what the future of space tourism holds for you, and how you can help open the space frontier and travel to the stars.
Space exploration isn’t just a mission… it’s a vacation!
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