Space tourism: still a romp for the self-indulgent



Yesterday, SpaceX announced that it plans to send two tourists on a trip around the Moon in 2018.

I’ll believe it when I see it. As other commentators have noted, sending people into space is complicated…. Nonetheless, the main message from the mass media is that this is going to happen.

Elon Musk – net worth #13 billion, according to Forbes – and his PR machine are masters at the art of garnering free publicity – no expensive ads placed on TV or in major newspapers (a la Boeing and Lockheed Martin), just a media event – and, voila, headlines on CNN, BBC News, NPR, USA Today, CBS News, etc. etc. etc. (A simple search on Google News this morning yielded 317,000 hits.)

It disturbs me that the media continue to lionize ultra-rich people for their self-indulgent efforts to entertain themselves. (Mar-a-Lago, anyone?)

The web news site Inverse reports that a ticket for this lunar romp will cost $35 million. (Inverse’s write-up of yesterday’s announcement is one of the better-balanced reports I’ve read.)

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the 2017 “poverty guideline” for a family of four is a household income of $24,600 a year. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2015, 43 million people in our great nation were living below the poverty level.

If both SpaceX moon passengers were to pass on their lunar joyrides and instead decide to make $50,000 grants to families living below the poverty level, they could give 1,400 of these families a shot at trying to get out of poverty (I know, I know, it takes more than cash to break out of poverty, but this could be a start). Or they could put $70 million into job training. Or they could make $100,000 grants to 700 students living below the poverty level to cover four years of college education.

This sort of thing is not my area of expertise – I’m not that kind of social scientist. But my point is that $70 million could be put to better use than adventure travel.

In 2006, I published a commentary in the journal Space Policy under the title, “Exploration for the masses? Or joyrides for the ultra-rich? Prospects for space tourism”:

“A space tourism industry appears to be about to take off. Businesses have announced plans to launch people into suborbital space for $200,000/person, with flights beginning as early as 2008. A brief review of the history of the idea of space tourism over the past four decades—and an awareness that many ventures have quietly shelved their grandiose plans—might aid thinking about the prospects for

development of a safe and thriving space tourism industry. Today’s space tourism model emphases the concept of luxury, and the lifestyle of hyper-consumption. It may be worth considering whether and how this conception of space tourism might affect the future of space exploration.”

This paper obviously needs updating (I‘ve posted it on this site), but I stand by my conclusion:

“As spacefaring nations extend human presence into space, they can take with them values and habits that have not served people especially well on Earth. Or they can

begin to consider what a spacefaring civilization might, could, or should look like in this new millennium. It is time for the global space community to initiate a broad public dialog about what sort of future in space all people want.”


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