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Drawing on a strong research base in the behavioral sciences, Albert A. Harrison covers such aspects of spaceflight as habitability needs, crew selection and training, stress management, group dynamics, accidents, and more. He tells what it's like to sleep, eat, work, and have fun in space and discusses the problems and opportunities that arise during both short- and long-term journeys. Harrison concentrates on recent and impending missions including the space shuttle, Mir and the International Space Station, a return to the moon, and a possible human expedition to Mars. He also touches on some futuristic topics, such as space tourism, space settlements, and interstellar travel.
With its inclusion of current research findings and recently released scientific and anecdotal material on humans in space, this book is an excellent source for understanding the human side of space travel. In addition to taking a close look at spacefarers themselves, Spacefaring reviews the broad organizational and political contexts that shape human progress toward the heavens. With the construction of the International Space Station in progress, the human journey to the stars continues, and this book will surely help guide the way.
From Chapter 11: Off Duty
Some people voluntarily choose celibacy, but we cannot expect this of everyone who enters space. Tourists, especially those on their honeymoon, will be drawn to space to experiment with sex under conditions of microgravity. Sex is a normal part of life, and spacefarers on long-term missions will seek some form of sexual gratification. Space settlements will draw entire families into space, and unless we are willing to content ourselves with test-tube babies, sex will be essential to replenish crews on multigeneration missions.
NASA has avoided few topics as studiously as the subject of sex in space. Given the selection of "right stuff" male astronauts, the brevity of the missions, and the close monitoring of life aboard the spacecraft, sex was not much of an issue during the early days. In later years, public pressures may have contributed to NASA's avoidance of the topic. NASA's approach to congressional support and funding rests in part on not annoying any appreciable segment of the population. Since sex outside of marriage (or even within marriage but at taxpayer expense) still runs against the grain of some Americans, NASA's avoidance of the topic is understandable.
Spaceflight conditions will affect the sheer mechanics of sex. Microgravity invites experimentation with previously impossible positions and acts. However, spaceflight also makes sex physically difficult and, by some North American standards, unappetizing. [note 9] There is little or no privacy. Lovers cannot count on gravity to stay in place--a consideration that led one inventor to develop a special leather harness that anchors one partner by the hips while nonetheless permitting undulating motions. Sweat does not collect as it would under normal gravity; rather, it forms liquid spheres that may break loose and float around the cabin. Air filtration systems are imperfect and personal hygiene facilities are limited, meaning that it is not so easy to clean up afterward. Of course, as people who have had sex in the backseat of a VW bug or in the boiler room of a tramp steamer know, none of this is prohibitive. It's just that for now, sex, like almost every other activity, will proceed without the comfort and amenities we are used to on Earth.
When we look beyond real or imagined public relations debacles and the novelty of sexual experimentation, we find profound issues of intimacy and interpersonal dynamics. [note 10] Spacefarers live in close confinement, and we want them to be cordial, indeed friendly, with one another. Yet we might be wary of unusually strong attachments or emotional bonds. We must count on crewmembers to work as a team and not show favoritism by attending to a lover rather than to the job. It could be very difficult to manage a personal relationship that goes sour early in a mission. After all, there is no place to escape the broken relationship, and a substitute partner could be very difficult to find. And, as is always the case during the long-term separation of partners, extramarital affairs can undermine preexisting marriages. Thus, spaceflight conditions can complicate romantic relationships that are already complicated enough.
One possibility is to compose the crew of preformed couples and hope that the different sets of partners will remain content with one another until the mission is over, and that favoritism will not get out of hand. Occasionally, someone suggests an overtly homosexual crew. This, of course, would do nothing to minimize rivalries and conflicts onboard but would do much to terrorize NASA public relations experts. Maybe the wisest course is simply not to ask and to leave spacefarers in charge of their own lives. In some spaceflight-analogous settings, confinees have secret, informal "provisional marriages" that last until the mission is done, at which point they terminate the relationship and return home with feigned innocence to their husbands and wives.
10. Connors, Harrison, and Akins, Living Aloft.
Copyright © 2001 by the Regents of the University of California
|The Beckoning Heavens|
|Advancing Science and Technology|
|Education and Human Resource Development|
|Managing Life on Planet Earth|
|Use of Space Resources|
|Psychological and Social Motives|
|2.||Spaceflight Human Factors||19|
|The Changing Conditions of Spaceflight|
|Lessons from Space, Lessons from Earth|
|Simulated Spaceflight Environments|
|3.||Hazards and Countermeasures||38|
|Maintaining Health in Space|
|In-Flight Medical Treatment|
|Spacecraft and Habitats|
|Visiting Space and the Race to the Moon|
|Shuttles and Space Stations|
|Life Support Systems|
|In Situ Resource Utilization|
|Forms and Configurations|
|6.||Selection and Training||98|
|Informal and Formal Training|
|Applying Principles of Learning|
|Education in Space|
|7.||Stress and Coping||117|
|Sources of Stress|
|Physical Environmental Stressors|
|Consequences of Stress|
|Psychological Reactions over Time|
|Psychological Support Groups|
|Psychiatric Health Maintenance Facilities|
|Gender and Ethnicity|
|Group Structure and Process|
|Conflicts with Mission Control|
|Spaceflight Conditions and Human Performance|
|Working in Microgravity|
|Space Suits and Extravehicular Activities|
|The Spacefarer's Tool Kit|
|Partnering With Intelligent Machines|
|Assigning Tasks to People and Machines|
|Who's in Charge Here?|
|Failures and Errors|
|Quality and Reliability|
|Keeping the Operator in the Loop|
|Eating and Drinking|
|Sex in Space|
|Leisure Time Activities|
|Maintaining Contact with Family and Friends|
|Down to Earth|
|Working with the Public|
|Who Can Go?|
|Hotels and Resorts|
|Tourists and Professionals|
|Visions of the Future|
|The Millennial Project|
|Life On the High Frontier|
|Shorten the Flight|
|15.||Restoring the Deram||262|
|What Went Wrong on the Way to the Future?|
|Back to the Future|
Although as a paid passenger Toyohiro Akiyama had the assignment of accumulating videotape and broadcasting live during the ten-minute periods when Mir was in television contact with Japan, David M. Harland proposes that as the first fee-paying visitor to Mir, Akiyama qualified as a space tourist. The "stereotyped Japanese tourist" he writes, Akiyama "brought with him half a dozen cameras and a hundred rolls of film to augment the several hundred kilograms of television equipment that had already been brought up." [note 1] Akiyama had trouble adapting to microgravity, experienced space sickness, and vomited. But looking back, Akiyama gave the flight high marks. [note 2] He described weightlessness and seeing the Earth from space as joyous experiences that many people would find attractive. Sightseeing, he wrote, was very special: the lights and colors combined with the movement of the spacecraft produced a visual feast that seemed like music.
Tourists use discretionary funds to travel and visit destinations that remove them from the routine of everyday life. They may seek adventure, rest and relaxation, or even pampering, but in all cases they are paying for experiences. Tourism is the largest industry in the world. Because it could yield benefits for NASA, the space industry, and the public, NASA and a consortium of firms known as the Space Transportation Association are working to develop space tourism. [note 3] Apparently, NASA has backed off from the view that space tourism is science fiction and now acknowledges its potential value as an approach to space commercialization.
In the 1960s, Krafft Ehricke and ConradHilton proposed visiting space for no other purpose than having fun, and thousands of people made down payments on proposed trips and reserved seats on the first spaceflights promised by a major commercial airline carrier. [note 4] In 1985, Society Expeditions, a leading adventure tourism company, announced intentions in this area. Today, several firms are eyeing tourist dollars. Surveys conducted in Japan, the United States, and Canada suggest that about 70 percent of the Japanese and 60 percent of the North Americans surveyed were interested in traveling to space. [note 5] In Japan, men and women were equally enthusiastic, but in the United States and Canada men were slightly more interested than women. As one might expect, people under forty were more likely to be interested in space travel (75 percent) than were people over sixty (25 percent). In these surveys, many interviewees indicated that they would like to visit space more than once, and some of the older respondents stated that they would have visited space if trips had been available when they were younger. A small proportion claimed they would spend more than one year's salary for the opportunity to visit space.
J. G. Pearsall points out that both the number of potential tourists and the amount of discretionary money that they have to spend will increase during the first decades of our new millennium. [note 6] Unlike that required for building solar-powered satellites, mining the Moon, or other commercial activities, most of the technology required for space tourism is available already.
John Spencer and the Space Tourism Society point out that if we think of tourists as buying experiences, then there are space tourists right now. His broad-based definition of space tourism encompasses not only tourist activities in space itself but also visiting Earth-based museums such as the National Air and Space Museum (which attracts millions of space tourists each year), participating in space camps, enjoying theme parks, and exploring space through virtual reality. [note 7] Space camps are like other camps in that they fall somewhere between a school and an amusement park. Instead of spending two weeks riding horses, rowing boats, learning how to tie knots, and eating hot dogs in a tent, space campers spend two weeks learning about the universe and spaceflight, riding in simulators, using astronaut gear, and enjoying freeze-dried ice cream. Space camps cater to both children and adults. Some companies have sent groups of employees to train together in a space camp. In the course of this, they get to know one another better and develop teamwork.
Theme parks are places like Disneyland's Tomorrowland where visitors enjoy futuristic entertainment with spacelike overtones. One Tomorrowland ride involves entering a futuristic buslike cabin that an animated robot then flies through simulated space. The craft banks and turns in response to the robot's control, while spacescapes reminiscent of those in Star Wars careen by the windshield. Finally, today's space tourists can use computer-generated pictures and virtual reality to gain the impression of walking on the surface of the Moon or Mars or flying through an asteroid belt.
As for space itself, the big challenge is finding safe, reliable ways to get people there while keeping costs low enough so that there will be a large market. Several companies are developing vehicles to take people to the edge of space.8 The initial cost for a very high altitude (one-hundred-kilometer) suborbital flight could be on the order of $100,000. Although this is a lot of money, keep in mind that the tourists who buy the best accommodations on a major cruise ship may pay $350,000 for a leisurely around-the-world tour.
Space tourism advocates believe that as the infrastructure is put into place, and multiple spacecraft come into use, cost will decrease to such a level that space tours can be brought within the reach of many middle-income people, at least those who are willing to save and wait for the privilege of flying in space. Furthermore, whereas tourist spacecraft may never be as uncomfortable as early spacecraft, we can expect a trend toward increased comfort and luxury. Over time, the average space vacation will become less adventurous and more luxurious. Perhaps a good analogy here is the gradual replacement of tourist camps with luxury motels as the United States' population, economy, and road system grew.
The tourist industry requires that both transportation and destination be safe, accessible, and comfortable enough to provide tourists with a positive experience. If only a few people are eligible for space, if they get hurt or sick, or if they just plain have a bad time, then word of mouth will discourage other potential customers. This may be especially true when space tours are accessible only to the rich and famous, whose descriptions of their experiences (favorable or unfavorable) will rivet the public's attention.
Who Can Go?
Only 1 or 2 percent of the applicants are accepted for the astronaut corps (see chapter 6). Once accepted, they are trained and retrained, primarily in the operation of the spacecraft's systems but also in how to live in space. Of course, space tourists will not have to fly a spacecraft any more than people touring England will have to drive a tour bus. Still, space tour operators will have to reckon with the medical risks of acceleration, microgravity, and other potentially hazardous conditions. Passengers will have to be screened and be given a level of training that goes beyond the brief safety instructions that are regurgitated at the start of a commercial airplane flight.
Presumably, space tourists will be in good cardiovascular health and free of impairments that might pose a liability in a spaceflight environment. However, the more stringent the requirements, the smaller the pool of potential tourists and the less lucrative the industry. This means establishing basic requirements for physical fitness, making the trip as easy and comfortable as possible, having medical personnel and supplies onboard, and establishing procedures for emergency evacuation. Space tourism will face an interesting challenge if people denied passage on the basis of physical criteria demand "reasonable accommodation," that is, that the spacecraft or tour be modified to take their limitations into account.
Compared to astronauts, space tourists will have to get by with very superficial levels of training. There may be a few wealthy, rugged people willing to spend months training with fellow space enthusiasts, learning how to cope with danger and stress through mountain climbing, undersea adventures, and other exercises intended to weld them into a superbly fit, high performance team. However, most people will not have the money, time, or inclination for this. Limited training, lasting a week or so, may be cast as a fun activity and worked into the vacation package. This training would focus on immediate issues, such as what to expect, how to follow procedures, and how to do things in microgravity.
Space tourist facilities must be engineered in such a way as to reduce risk to a minimum, even for superficially trained people. This means that the vehicles should be no more likely to fail than commercial airliners and that tourists are no more likely to get sick or hurt than on a terrestrial tour. Safety is one of the reasons most commonly cited by people who are not interested in traveling into space. [note 9] Customers will be reassured when insurance companies offer space travel and air travel coverage for the same rates.
Safety requires minimizing the biomedical hazards of spaceflight. Most likely, we can keep acceleration within acceptable limits. At least at first, most tourists will not proceed to the Van Allen belts, which contain trapped radiation, so in the absence of major solar flares, radiation is unlikely to be much of a problem. On the basis of medical considerations alone, under some conditions the crewmembers should be given greater protection against radiation than tourists need be given. In the case of a minor solar storm, for example, it may be the crew rather than the passengers who should crowd into the safe haven, because it is the crew, with their months or years in space, who run the risk of receiving the highest cumulative doses of radiation. No matter how practical this might be, though, passengers would find it unacceptable, so it will be necessary to include a "storm shelter" that can accommodate everyone.
Space motion sickness is another matter. Note that in retrospect Akiyama enjoyed his visit to space despite vomiting. Nonetheless, sickness can diminish a sightseeing experience at the time. Simple over-the-counter pills intended to combat motion sickness will help many tourists; unlike professional spacefarers, the tourists can risk side effects such as drowsiness. Nonetheless, to encourage more people to spend more time in space, artificial gravity would help. Although this might be developed first for the tourist industry, artificial gravity would also be useful if and when people choose to live on large orbiting communities or set forth over vast interplanetary distances.
In addition to reducing the chances of space motion sickness, artificial gravity would make it easy to move from place to place when the tourists are tired of experimenting with weightlessness and facilitate the preparation of and consumption of gourmet meals. The most feasible way to create artificial gravity is through centrifugation. This involves spinning people around to build up G-force. The amount of force depends on the radius of the spin and the number of revolutions per minute (rpm). Imagine yourself standing in a large coffee tin that is attached to a rope, and that is being spun around and around by a giant as if she were participating in a shot-put contest. The longer the rope, and the faster she spins, the greater the G-force or artificial gravity. If the rope is shortened she must spin faster to cause the same effect on you, but if the rope is lengthened she need not spin quite so fast. By spinning wheel-shaped or cylindrical space stations we can create artificial gravity, with the gravity being stronger as one proceeds out from the axis of rotation, or hub (see chapter 13). The hub will remain a gravity-free zone. This is important, because weightlessness will be one of the tourist attractions.
Larry Lemke points out that human subjects have lived for days in chambers that were spun around at the end of giant arms. [note 10] The faster the spin, the greater the motion sickness, and the longer it takes to adapt, both to the "flight" and then again after the contraption stops. There are few biomedical problems if the speed is kept at 2 rpm, but at this slow speed the radius for the centrifuge would be 223 meters to maintain 1-G.
Drawing on a study conducted at Marshall Spaceflight Center in 1987, Lemke proposes an interplanetary spacecraft that would look like a huge rotating set of dumbbells. One of the spheres, which would provide the hub for the rotation, could be used as a microgravity lab or for storing equipment and supplies. The second sphere, connected by a long tether, would swing around the first. The length of the tether and the speed of rotation could be varied so that, on a journey to Mars, for example, there would be .38-G to acclimate the spacefarers, but on the return voyage rotational speed could be adjusted to 1-G to prepare the crew for its return to Earth. A spacecraft with this capability would weigh only a little more than one without it: Lemke estimates the weight penalty at about 10-20 percent.
In addition to safety and protection from biomedical hazards, tourist facilities must achieve high levels of habitability. There are always some tourists willing to undergo hardship to visit a remote part of Earth, and many of them will choose to do the same to visit space, but space tourism as an industry will not reach maturity until the average person finds the accommodations comfortable. Tourists will require clean, private quarters, a fresh atmosphere (the scent of an old locker room won't do), sufficient if not abundant water to accommodate personal hygiene needs, interesting food, and, when the novelty wears off, entertainment. In the interests of safety and service, the ratio of staff to tourists must be high.
There are two basic models for space tourism. The adventure model, which seems a little more attainable right now, stresses scarcity and hardship, such as one might find on a mountain-climbing expedition or a trek across Antarctica. The cruise ship model stresses abundance and luxury, such as one might find on a cruise ship at sea or at a resort. John Spencer and the Space Tourism Society favor the second model and consider it necessary to stress the beautiful, sensual, and futuristic aspects of space tourism to attract financial backing and build interest among tourists.
As presently envisioned, space tourism is likely to follow the path of spacefaring itself. Suborbital flights will take people to a very high altitude to give them a good view of Earth and brief exposure to microgravity. Next would come orbital tours, reminiscent of circling Earth a few times in a space shuttle or an oversized Apollo command module. Later, there may be flights to specific destinations such as orbiting hotels or resorts on the Moon. Suborbital flights are already on the horizon, but the next steps beyond that could be big ones. Thus, this discussion is necessarily speculative.
The first space tourists, limited to suborbital flights, will have brief but intense experiences. They will get to see Earth from an altitude that very few people attain, and they will gain limited firsthand experience with weightlessness. Moreover, as Leonard David points out, they will gain "bragging rights." [note 11]
If plans are realized, tourists who book trips with the Zegrahm Company will be brought to space on a ship known as a Space Cruiser, which becomes airborne via a Sky Lifter jet transport. The Space Cruiser separates from the Sky Lifter and uses its own engines to reach the edge of space and fly a large parabola, and then returns as a normal plane. Passengers booked with the Civilian Astronaut Corps eventually may ride the Mayflower, an ocean-launched titanium rocket. [note 12]
Harvey Wichman and his students have explored some of the human factors issues for tourists on suborbital flights. [note 13] Their report opens by tracing the hypothetical experiences of Bill and Liz Marquitz, world travelers who at age sixty are ready for their first trip into space. Their experience begins about a week before liftoff, when they arrive at the Zegrahm facilities in the Mojave Desert. In luxurious surroundings they learn about spaceflight and undergo specific instruction in safety, basic procedures, what to expect during different phases of the flight, and how to "translate," that is, move from place to place in microgravity. A simulated flight in a model of the Space Cruiser is a highlight of the training session and adds to the preflight fun and excitement.
Prior to liftoff, Bill, Liz, and four fellow tourists are issued flight suits that Wichman's students designed to serve two purposes. First, these are highly functional outfits for the flight itself. Fire-resistant and comfortable, these suits are two-piece, since one-piece outfits are much more difficult to manage in cramped locations such as a tiny lavatory. The garment is free of unnecessary straps and protuberances but contains many pockets so that people can bring small items into space. Soft slippers are used as footwear; not only are these more comfortable than hard shoes, they are less likely to cause injuries if wearers bump into each other while floating and tumbling. Other functions of these outfits include commemorating the experience, serving as tangible mementos, and advertising the flight to other potential customers. Attractively made, with a dark blue pullover top and light blue trousers, they are intended to last. Because the clientele will be international, a small rendition of the tourist's national flag will be sewn on the right shoulder. Other patches reminiscent of those designed for specific NASA missions will also help commemorate the flight.
The Space Cruiser, reminiscent of a small corporate jet, carries a pilot and copilot along with the six passengers. Slowly the mother ship gains altitude. The first part of the ride does not differ that much from a ride in a small jet, apart from being tacked onto the Skylifter's back. However, after everyone makes a final trip to the lavatory and engages in a brief flurry of radio communication, the spacecraft's engine ignites and the cruiser leaves its transport behind as it gains altitude at a ferocious rate. The sky turns from blue to black, and despite the sunlight passengers get a great view of the stars--and there are more visible stars than they ever imagined.
As the Space Cruiser's trajectory shifts from a beeline to a gentle arc, the travelers experience about two minutes of weightlessness. Seats retract into the floor (to give the tourists more room to move around). They experiment with small objects that they brought with them and enjoy floating in different positions. Handholds, footholds, and bungee cords keep individual tourists within their assigned spaces, minimizing the risk of serious collisions. After a few minutes the arc is completed and gravity resumes its pull. The seats reemerge from the floor, and the passengers strap themselves back in. The spaceplane lands at the Mojave facilities; the entire flight took about two and a half hours.
Orbiting vacations would extend the period of weightlessness from minutes to hours or days and offer tourists the opportunity to observe firsthand large parts of Earth. Right now, it costs millions to put someone into orbit. D. M. Ashford of Bristol Aerospace proposes two generations of reusable spaceplanes for lifting tourists into orbit. [note 14] According to his analysis, these will reduce the costs of putting a person into orbit to 1 or 2 percent of what they are today. This would allow a pricing structure that would put orbital tours within the reach of tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
Like the Space Cruiser, Ashford's spaceplanes would take off on the back of large, fast transports (in this case something like long, skinny Concordes) and, at an appropriate altitude and speed, would separate from the host for the next phase of the journey. The first passenger-carrying version, the Spacecab, would carry six passengers and a crew of two, but all the way into orbit. Since Ashford projects that the Spacecab would be much less expensive than a shuttle to build and operate, it could be financed in part by contracts to ferry government astronauts to space stations. After the Spacecab would come the Spacebus, a much larger version of the Spacecab, with fifty seats. Of course, this would be very expensive to develop, but Ashford explains that we need to look beyond the initial cost to some future time when the Spacebus is a mature vehicle. That is, the spacecraft will be less expensive when the up-front development costs have been swallowed and there are several dozen, perhaps scores, of each in operation. He projects that a ticket on a mature fifty-person spaceplane would cost on the order of ten thousand dollars.
Another alternative, favored by the Japanese Rocket Society, is a fully reusable rocket capable of reaching orbit with just one stage. [note 15] Insisting on a fully reusable rocket keeps the cost down, because there is no need to replace expensive components for each flight. Having a single stage that orbits is crucial, so that it can be launched from spaceports all over the globe. Since multistage rockets jettison spent stages, they must be launched in coastal regions, where castoffs can splash down harmlessly. Since a single-stage-to-orbit rocket does not jettison parts, it is as conveniently launched from Nevada or Kansas as from a Carolina beach.
The Japanese Rocket Society plans call for squat, blunt, bullet-shaped rockets capable of carrying fifty tourists, whose seats would be arranged in two semicircular rows facing windows. These craft would be equipped with lavatories, galleys, television sets and other amenities associated with the large aircraft, and a small area for experimenting with microgravity. There would be a beverage and food service, and of course, the opportunity to buy souvenirs. The standard Earth-observation orbit would be two hundred kilometers.
Prospective tourists would have a choice of either two-orbit or one-day vacations. Those choosing brief flights would have a choice of two itineraries. A daytime departure (from Japan) would feature good views of the Pacific and the Americas, while a nighttime departure would be dominated by views of Africa and Asia. Those on the full-day tour would get a good overview of Earth (because during each orbit they would fly over different territory) and a good taste of microgravity. According to optimistic projections, there might be as many as fifty rockets in almost continuous use, which means that, as with a commercial aircraft, there would have to be a rapid turnaround time. (Remember: a rocket on the ground is like a ship in port--it is losing money.) If desired levels of demand are realized, fifty thousand people a year would take orbital tours for about the same price as a ride on the Spacebus.
Hotels and Resorts
The next level of space tourism involves spending several days in space; for example, a week in an orbiting space hotel. Presumably, the very first orbital hotels will be reminiscent of current space stations, and there have been efforts to refurbish Mir as a tourist attraction. Ashford offers us some idea of what an early space hotel might be like. [note 16] He envisions a cylindrical space station that accommodates eighteen guests and a crew of six. Tourists would have private sleeping quarters. There would be an eating and meeting room, a viewing room or observatory, a microgravity lab where the tourists could conduct their own experiments, and a microgravity gym. Later, space hotels could become huge, sumptuous affairs, perhaps patterned after the best hotels and resorts on Earth. As self-contained "worlds" they could be designed to carry various motifs: for example, they could take their themes from the movies 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Trek. For the history buff, spacecraft could carry modules that reproduce earlier spacecraft such as Mir or Apollo.
Pearsall compares developing space hotels to developing the Chunnel, the tunnel that runs under the English Channel connecting England and France. [note 17] As with the Chunnel, developing a space hotel will require an immense planning effort and massive investment; also as was the case with the Chunnel, there is sufficient promise of economic return that it is worth committing to more detailed studies of the feasibility of such a hotel. His preliminary analysis suggests that a luxury hotel would be a great attraction but very expensive to construct, forcing vacations to be priced beyond the reach of all but the tiniest sliver of the tourist market. A Spartan hotel would be much cheaper to construct and could be made available to vacationers at a relatively attractive price, but if all it offers are tiny viewports and granola bars, how many people would want to go there? Pearsall concludes that if we assume a launch date of 2010, a modest hotel (something between a Spartan hotel and a luxury hotel) could begin to turn a profit in a decade or two.
The contemporary cruise ship, notes Robert L. Halterman, may be a useful analogue for luxury orbiting hotels and space resorts. [note 18] Initially, passenger ships were used to transport people from one place to another, but by the late 1960s almost everybody traveled by air. During the 1960s and 1970s, the industry shifted from passenger service to vacation cruises. Many of today's cruise ships are larger and better, and they carry more people, than the fabled luxury ships that transported passengers from Europe to the Americas during the first half of the twentieth century. Cruises are a multi-billion-dollar industry, with companies vying to build the newest, largest, and most luxurious ships.
Cruise ships are supported by a vast infrastructure, including travel agents, food and beverage suppliers, docking facilities, maintenance crews and facilities--an infrastructure invisible to most passengers, but which (along with crew salaries, provisions, and ship depreciation) has to be factored into the cost of the operation. Most cruise ships offer a range of accommodations geared to different budgets and tastes. Although all rooms are clean and comfortable, they differ in terms of size and amenities. For example, cruise ships offer several grades of rooms, ranging from small interior cabins that lack portholes to spacious, lavishly appointed luxury suites. However, all grades of accommodations are accompanied by fine food and good service. All passengers have access to the ship's restaurants, lounges, bars, theaters, shops, and casino.
The experience of the cruise industry shows, first, that ships that were initially somewhat Spartan and used for necessity later became luxurious and were used for pleasure. Even as it would be difficult for pilgrims on the Mayflower to imagine today's luxury liners, it may be difficult for those of us who are familiar with today's spaceflight to envision the luxury spacecraft of tomorrow. Second, the cruise industry has identified some important cost-cutting strategies. For example, in the past, blueprints were used to construct either one or two ships. Today, shipbuilders use the same plans to construct several ships. Although this isn't mass production in the same sense as an automobile assembly line, standardization cuts costs materially. Third, the industry shows that people enjoy traveling and are willing to pay for high-quality service.
Initially, people will be drawn to space to view Earth and the Moon and to experience microgravity. However, at some point spectacular views and excellent cuisine will not be enough: they will seek additional entertainment. Special entertainment will be particularly important to attract repeat customers.
Honeymooners and couples celebrating their anniversaries may be attracted by the idea of experimenting with sex in space, so perhaps there will be some honeymoon suites. (Couples may have to settle for a shower, rather than a huge, heart-shaped tub like those found at many honeymoon resorts on Earth.) We might expect that a gymnasium would be a major attraction. Imagine jumping, tumbling, and doing somersaults unfettered by gravity, or perhaps bouncing back and forth between two trampolines. In the evenings, the gym could be converted to a theater where guests could enjoy watching live 3-D baseball and other games made possible or embellished by microgravity. By the same token, weightlessness would make possible some truly remarkable feats of acrobatics and choreography.
One of the problems faced by the hospitality industry is that it can take a lot of servers, bartenders, and house cleaners to assure top-quality service. (On a cruise ship there is likely to be one crewmember for every two guests.) Perhaps some of this work will be done by sophisticated robots. A robot bartender, for example, wouldn't require a bunk, three meals a day, pay, and periodic visits to Earth, and it could add to the tourist experience by contributing to a futuristic, high-tech ambiance.
Even more exotic than an orbiting hotel would be a spaceship that leaves Earth's orbit and circles around the Moon before returning. This would allow tourists to see Earth at a distance, view the Moon up close, enjoy an "Earthrise," and perhaps undergo a transformational experience. Perhaps the spacecraft could be equipped with powerful and securely anchored telescopes to give vacationers a good look at the stars and the lunar surface.
If space tourism matures, a resort on the Moon would be a logical destination. According to Ben Bova, visitors to the Moon will see startling effects brought about by the apparent closeness of the horizon (it will seem half as far away as it does on Earth) and, due to the lack of atmosphere, exceptionally sharp views of lunar landmarks and skies. [note 19] Someday it may be possible for lunar and Mars visitors to go outside the craft for recreational purposes, and Bova recommends a buddy system so that people go two at a time. Strollers will be kept to established pathways. Hopefully, this will be enforced better than it is in Antarctica, where every now and then someone tries to take a shortcut and ends up perishing after falling into a crevasse. Every kilometer or so there would be an emergency shack where people can retreat if they develop a problem with their space suit or receive a solar flare alarm. According to the former astronaut Jim Lovell, three major Japanese companies have spent a total of more than forty million dollars over the past ten years studying ways to create resorts on the Moon. [note 20] These studies include everything from construction techniques to developing workable golf courses.
Patrick Collins believes that many people who are now alive will live to see space tourism become an established industry. [note 21] He expects that by the year 2030 there will be twenty orbital sports centers, seventy-two orbital hotels, and two orbiting propellant stations. The seventy-two orbital hotels will include ten that are in polar orbit (which, over the course of successive orbits, will allow guests to view the entire world) and two in elliptical orbit, giving guests both close-up and distant views of Earth. He anticipates daily scheduled flights to the Moon, where there will be hotels and resorts at the lunar poles (where water is available). He expects that at that time there will be 5 million passengers per year, and at any one time seventy thousand people will be in orbit.
If the visions of the space tourism advocates are realized, then space will become home to hoards of visitors each year. If and when tourists visit places such as the Moon, we may expect the kinds of problems that occur when large numbers of tourists show up at formerly isolated locations. Tourists do not always merge well with the people who are already there, and either due to ignorance or callousness they pose some level of environmental risk.
Tourists and Professionals
Even given the space tourism industry's optimistic time line, space tourists could be beaten to the Moon by explorers, scientists, and miners. Based on experience in Antarctica, we can guess how the professionals and the tourists will get along. Until relatively recently, there were only three ways that a North American could get to Antarctica: as a scientist supported by the National Science Foundation, through a navy assignment, or by employment with one of the civilian contractors that provided maintenance services at various Antarctic posts. But this has changed.
At first, cruise ships brought tourists to the coast of Antarctica. Now, cruise ships and special flights take tourists to some of the coastal stations and even the South Pole itself. From the professionals' point of view, tourists impose on their valuable time. Scientists may feel obligated to clean up or police the area before the tourists arrive, and to watch out for the tourists and answer their questions. Despite careful instructions to the contrary, even well-meaning tourists can disrupt an experiment. Then, too, the professionals feel that they have earned the right to be there, while the tourists have merely spent money to do so. Finally, despite the huge mass of the Antarctic continent, tourists can make the place too crowded--at least when they all try to jam into one hut. Tourists, in other words, can impinge on the professionals' privacy and time and chip away at their sense of distinctiveness and accomplishment.
There is, of course, a relatively simple solution. Although the industry will require professionals to pilot the craft and maintain the first space hotels, the tourists could be confined to special locations. The spacefarers that tourists come into contact with will not be scientists but will work for the tourist industry. If they can be sequestered in a specific tourist haven, tourists will not interrupt scientific experiments or keep space industrialization from continuing apace. This separation may not be so easy when, for example, tourists visit the Moon or Mars and want to examine an industrial site or visit a historic area, such as the sites of the Apollo landings.
Certain areas may become protected monuments. The footprints and debris of the first astronauts on the Moon might be protected for all time, as, no doubt, would be the remnants of the first lunar and Martian colonies.
Tourism increases the number of people in an area, and this alone can alter the local ecology. Tourists who are well intentioned inadvertently kill things and leave trash behind. Tourists who are not well intentioned snatch botanical or geological specimens for souvenirs, leave trash where it falls, and otherwise hurt the environment. This has occurred in Antarctica, and it could very well occur in space.
Here, we may expect to learn from the experiences of the National Park Service. Essentially, there are two conflicting strategies--development and protection--that in combination satisfy most people's interests. Some areas are developed or even "enhanced" to provide safe, comfortable, and interesting areas for the general public. These are the highly accessible visitors' centers that are usually located near special attractions and offer great vistas. Such areas have been engineered to be safe and comfortable, with paved pathways or plank boardwalks, handrails, illuminated parking areas, and the like. They are continually staffed during operating hours and have such amenities as displays, running water, and toilets. Other areas, wilderness areas, are highly protected and left alone to be modified only by the processes of nature. If visitors are allowed at all, they are expected to have certain levels of knowledge and proficiency, are subjected to numerous rules and regulations, and are usually led by professional guides.
Advocates of space tourism paint a very appealing picture. Much of their attention is devoted to developing an economical, fully reusable launch vehicle. If in fact they can reduce launch costs to a small fraction of what they are today, they will eliminate one of the greatest bottlenecks to our advancement in space. Not only would this open the door to tourists, it would provide the cheap transportation needed to send workers to construct solar power satellites, mine the Moon, and reach many of the other goals for commerce in space.
By raising the prospects of space tourism, industry advocates give us a wonderful gift. People are intrigued by the idea of spaceflight, but their excitement is restrained because they don't consider it a possibility for themselves. Not only would making space accessible to a broad segment of the population give people exciting new experiences, it would encourage many different kinds of human activities in space. Thus, the space tourism industry could develop both the technology and the popular support required to accelerate human progress in getting off our planet.
As is so often the case when we consider our possible future in space, the visions seem to rest upon wishfulness and optimism as well as any economic and engineering data. Part of the problem may be that we are so conditioned by the past forty years of space exploration that it is almost impossible to conceive of space travel as inexpensive and popular. There seems to be a fundamental disconnect between the tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of dollars that it costs to put a person into space today and the ten thousand dollars we hope it will cost to put a person into space at midcentury.
Even if it is true that concerted efforts mounted today could bring spectacular results in a decade or two, very few companies are trying to mount such efforts. Only recently has NASA viewed space tourism as a viable possibility, and the aerospace giants seem content with launching satellites and fulfilling government contracts for largely expendable equipment. Their perspective may broaden, however, as defense contracts dwindle and as our skies become saturated with communication satellites, leaving these companies with tremendous capacity to turn to new ventures.
Space camps, theme parks, and virtual experiences are already available, and suborbital flights are on the horizon. It is possible that we have a basically accurate outline of the future of space tourism beyond that, but that the time line is optimistic. Those of us who would like to visit space should wish the industry Godspeed. We live in a fast-paced society and are accustomed to very rapid technological change. Nonetheless, it took many centuries for the dugout canoe to evolve into The Love Boat.
2. Toyohiro Akiyama, "The Pleasure of Spaceflight," Journal of Space Technology and Science 9 (1993): 21-23.
3. Jim Lovell, "Today an Unmanned Mars Rover, Tomorrow a Family Vacation on the Final Frontier?" Final Frontier (1998): 44.
4. Sven Abitzsch, "Prospects of Space Tourism" (paper presented at the 9th European Aerospace Congress, Berlin, May 15, 1996).
5. P. Collins, R. Stockmans, and M. Maita, "Demand for Space Tourism in America and Japan, and its Implications for Future Space Activities," http://www.spacefuture.com/archive/demand_for_space_tourism_in_america_and_japan.shtml .
6. J. G. Pearsall, "Space Hotels," Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 50 (1997): 67-80.
8. Leonard David, "Space Tourism: Escape Velocity Vacationing," Final Frontier (1998): 29-34.
9. Collins, Stockmans, and Maita, "Demand for Space Tourism."
10. Lawrence G. Lemke, "Artificial Gravity: Design Implications for Mars Vehicles," in Strategies for Mars: A Guide for Human Exploration, ed. Carol R. Stoker and Carter Emmart (San Diego, Calif.: American Astronautical Society/Univelt, 1996), pp. 153-66.
11. David, "Space Tourism."
13. Harvey Wichman et al., Suborbital Civilian Space Flight: Design Issues, Aerospace Psychology Laboratory Report No. 4 (Claremont, Calif.: Claremont-McKenna College, 1999).
14. D. M. Ashford, "A Development Strategy for Space Tourism," Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 50 (1997): 59-66.
15. Kohki Isozaki et al., "Vehicle Design for Space Tourism," Journal of Space Technology and Science 10 (1994): 22-34.
16. Ashford, "A Development Strategy for Space Tourism."
17. Pearsall, "Space Hotels."
18. Robert L. Halterman, "Evolution of the Modern Cruise Trade and Its Application to Space Tourism" (paper presented at the Space Transportation Association [STA]--National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA] Cooperative Space Act Agreement Study on Space Tourism, November 30, 1996).
19. Ben Bova, Welcome to Moonbase (New York: Ballantine Books, 1987).
20. Lovell, "Today an Unmanned Mars Rover, Tomorrow a Family Vacation on the Final Frontier?"
21. Patrick Collins, "Space Activities, Space Tourism, and Economic Growth" (paper presented at the 2nd International Symposium on Space Tourism, Bremen, Germany, April 21-23, 1999).
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