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NASA says space tourism is on its way but skeptics doubt it

Space shuttle
Space tourism not that far away, according to a new study  

In this story:

March 25, 1998
Web posted at: 10:54 p.m. EST (0354 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Ordinary people may soon be able to take a trip into outer space -- if they can afford the ticket.

A study by NASA and the Space Transportation Association says high-priced "adventure" trips to space could become possible in the next few years and a larger, profitable space tourism industry is possible in a "few decades."

The study concludes that the United States should give serious attention to the creation of space travel and should work to make tourism a part of the country's space goals.

"Polls consistently find that public interest in actually going to space continues to be large, real and widespread," the report says. "However, very few realize that it is possible that soon, ordinary people... could be able to take a space trip."

In fact, skepticism about the notion of space tourism is one impediment to its development, the report says.

"This so-called 'giggle factor' is especially prevalent among some experienced aerospace systems engineers unfamiliar with potential new capabilities," the report says. "The general public is actually more accepting of the idea of public space travel than these engineers."

Not expected in the near future

Space tourism will allow people to see the Earth rotating  

But don't pack your bags just yet.

John Pike, director of the Space Policy Project at the Federation of American Scientists, is among the skeptics. He says space tourism isn't going to happen in the near future and that scientists have good reason to be skeptical.

"The public would love to fly on the Starship Enterprise. The aerospace industry knows that they don't know how to build it. It's as simple as that," he said.

Cost is another factor. The government now spends about $400 million on each space shuttle mission, and the report says large-scale space tourism won't be profitable until costs drop to about $1 million to $2 million per orbit.

CNN's Skip Loescher reports

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That would put ticket prices below $50,000 per passenger and might eventually put them in the $10,000 to $20,000 range.

The report estimates there could be about 500,000 space trip passengers per year if ticket prices were below $50,000.

Pike faults that finding as well.

"I don't think NASA should be in the business of providing vacation opportunities for rich people... because you're basically talking about all taxpayers paying for this but... only the very wealthy enjoying it," he said.

Report also calls for more space camps

Among the report's recommendations are:

  • National space policy should be examined with an eye toward encouraging the creation of space tourism.

  • The expansion of space camps, space-themed parks and other land-based space tourism should be encouraged.

  • The federal government should cooperate with private business to reduce the technological, operational and market risks -- much as it has done with aviation and satellite communications.

  • The government should sponsor research and development to dramatically lower the cost of space travel and demonstrate ways to reduce the effects of space sickness.


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