Space tourism is like a wildest dream to many. Recently, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos blasted in space on his rocket company Blue Origin’s first flight. He is now a second billionaire to ride his own spacecraft. The Nehru Science Centre (Mumbai) in association with the Aeronautical Society of India, Mumbai Branch organised an online lecture on ‘Space Tourism: The Next Frontier’ on Tuesday (July 27, 2021). Dr. Punita Masrani, Aerospace Medicine Specialist, V. M. Medical Centre, Mumbai in the online discussion took note of various aspects of the commercial space travel in the lecture.
In the online lecture, Dr Punita discussed how the concept of Space tourism or commercial space travel is not new and also discussed its history–right from the idea conception to reality. Space tourism is the space travel for recreational, leisure or business purposes, she said. Citing the recent example, she said, “Space Tourism has been in news recently because of two American billionaires, Richard Bronsan and Jeff Bezos who went into space as tourists using their personal rockets and aircraft.
Dr. Punita stated that NASA and the Russian Space Agency had earlier started taking tourists for space travel calling the process exorbitant and stringent. A spacecraft called Russian Soyuz used to take tourists every 6 months. ‘Space Adventures was the first agency in the field of Space Tourism. The agency was started by US billionaire Richard Garriot in 1998. The agency offered brokered rides aboard the Russian Soyuz Rockets’ Dr. Punita said. While both NASA and the Russian Space Agency halted space tourism, industrialists and entrepreneurs thought they could start private missions so that more and more people could travel to space. This gave birth to the concept of Space tourism, Dr Punita added.
Dennis Tito was the first commercial spaceflight passenger before which only astronauts went to space for research purposes, said Dr Punita in her lecture. Tito went to space on the Russian Soyuz TMA Launch Vehicle in April 2001. Mark Shuttleworth, Greg Olsen, Anoush Ansari, Charles Simony, Richard Garriott, Guy Laliberte were others who went on paid trips to space between 2002 to 2009. The private space travelers had to go through stringent selection standards, extensive training, and adopted measures to counteract challenges, she added.
Dr. Punita also discussed in detail the various companies that are working in the field of private space travel. First she discussed–Blue Origin, which was established in 2000 by Amazon CEO/ Founder Jeff Bezos. Blue Origin’s reusable rocket New Shepard successfully completed its first human flight recently with four private citizens onboard. The crew included Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen. The rocket New Shephard took off on 20th July 2021 from West Texas, United States.
SpaceX, which is an American aerospace manufacturer, founded by Elon Musk, CEO, Tesla Motors in 2002. The company developed the Dragon Spacecraft which was used by NASA astronauts to go to the International Space Station. Space X is also planning to send citizens to the International Space Station on a 10-day paid trip. It is also planning trips to the moon and Mars.
Dr. Punita also informed NASA recently has allowed private citizens to the International Space Station for a short visit. Companies like Axiom Space are involved in the training of private astronauts. The company is also planning a Private Space station in future.
Dr. Punita also introduced the basic terminologies involved in space tourism like–orbital flights, sub orbital flights, low earth orbits. According to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, an altitude above 100km above sea level i.e., Kármán Line is Space. The same agency considers an altitude of 50 miles (80.47km) as the altitude to qualify as spaceflight.
Dr. Punita also informed that the International Space Station is a modular space station in low Earth orbit (Thermosphere). The station was established in 1998. It is a multinational collaborative project involving five participating space agencies: NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada).
DR. Punita, while concluding the lecture, also discussed that the science involved risk, awareness, concerns, and medical informed consent which are essential parts of tourism. She further explained possible post flight medical conditions and impact of space travel on the human body and brain.