Space tourism gets a boost at Las Vegas conference

The limitations on who can be an astronaut and what it means to travel into space are being pushed during the “second great age of exploration,” citizen astronauts said during a Monday panel at the Caesars Forum convention space with two members of some of 2021’s commercial space flights.

Discussions about the future of space tourism and technology led the Ascend conference, hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Citizen astronauts, also called space tourists, are those that joined commercial space flights earlier this year. They’re just a few of the 600 people that have been to space and hope to lead a new industry expected to take off in the next century. But it’s unclear when a ticket to the stars — currently estimated to be at least $250,000 for a suborbital trip — could be affordable for the average person.

While the passenger list of who can go on a private spacecraft is limited, entrepreneur Jared Isaacman said more activity in the space industry will help cut down costs in the future.

“Space is expensive, that’s obvious,” said Isaacman, who commanded SpaceX’s all-civilian Inspiration4 mission. “A lot of things when you’re breaking new ground in technology are expensive. Computers in the 1960s were expensive. Cell phones in the 1980s were expensive.”

“Somebody has to pay that bill to recoup (non-recurring engineering) costs, drive down costs, and make it more affordable for others,” he added. “I think what matters now is do these missions matter? Are they making a difference? If they are, then they are opening up the door for others to follow and it shouldn’t matter who paid for it.”

Isaacman and Sirisha Bandla, vice president of government affairs at Virgin Galatic who was on the company’s Unity 22 spaceflight, declined to speculate on when costs will drop.

“All the companies themselves are looking at how to continue to advance the technology, how to make the manufacturing process more efficient,” Bandla said. “We’re rolling out Imagine, our next spacecraft, and we’re going to continue building a fleet and as we continue advancing tech, making manufacturing practices more efficient, that price will come down.”

Panelists also used part of Monday’s conference to honor Glen de Vries, a pilot on the Blue Origin space flight last month, who died Friday in a plane crash. De Vries was supposed to join the conference.

In a memorial during the panel, Clay Mowry, vice president of global sales, marketing and customer experience at Blue Origin, said de Vries took the space flight as an opportunity to further expand how he viewed life on Earth’s value. Mowry recalled how excited de Vries was before and after the Oct. 13 flight to the edge of space.

“He savored every moment, what it was to fly on New Shepard,” Mowry said.

The citizen astronauts said their travels to space — which range from less than an hour in a vessel to three days above Earth — is just the beginning of commercial space travel. While some of the public view this year’s private space flights as a “billionaire’s boy’s club,” said panel moderator Kari Byron, the astronauts view it as the beginning of a new era.

Bandla said being part of the Unity 22 mission in July changed her view on who could go to space and what could occur on commercial flights.

“It’s not just the people but the capabilities and applications for a spaceship,” Bandla said. “We can now fly researchers to space along with their payloads, which is incredible. We have biomedical engineers, we have microbiologists that are now able to go to space with their work.”

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.



Source: Einnews

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