Los Angeles, CA, April 25, 2002 Even at a price of over $15 million dollars (U.S.) per ticket, a burgeoning new space tourism industry is emerging, according to the Space Frontier Foundation. Mark Shuttleworth of South Africa recently became the second civilian to buy a ticket for a flight to the International Space Station, and follows on the successful flight of private citizen Dennis Tito who, last year, became the first. And, there are more ticket buyers waiting in the wings.
Mark Shuttleworth, Africa's first space tourist.
"Even at these astronomical prices," said Foundation President Rick Tumlinson, "we have an American soccer mom, a businessman from Poland, and even a pop star pulling funds together for their tickets." He is certain that, over time, the high cost of spaceflight will come down, as market forces kick in and new passenger-carrying space ships come on line. Tumlinson, acting privately, initially signed Tito up for his flight last year.
"At the beginning of the aviation industry," Tumlinson explained, "only the very rich could afford to fly across the oceans, but eventually the cost began to fall as systems were created to streamline the process. This allowed more people to fly, which brought the cost even lower. Now almost anyone can buy a plane ticket to anywhere. It will take longer for this to happen in space, but it will happen."
The Foundation, which supports tax and market incentives to help kick-start the nascent space transportation industry, wants government and Wall Street to take notice and act now to support commercial human space activities.
"This should be a wake up call to potential investors in companies wanting to cater to this market," believes Tumlinson. "Imagine if the costs could be brought down, this market could be worth billions."
The Foundation is happy that NASA and the other space agencies operating the ISS have now created standards and systems for clearing and training what it calls "citizen explorers." The group believes the next big hurdles are commercial spaceships that operate like airliners and the development of dedicated space hotels.
Added Tumlinson, "right now, the government can only do so much in this area. There are credible private teams out there who want to build the space versions of DC-3s and space Hiltons, but they are dying on the vine due to lack of investment." According to the Foundation, it is time for those of vision to step up and help open this new frontier to the people of Earth, by bringing the costs down. "After all," he concluded, "the Right Stuff isnt limited to government employees, their guests and an occasional multi-millionaire. Why shouldn't we all get to experience the ride of a lifetime?"