NASA announced last week that their International Space Station (ISS) is going to be open for space tourism very soon. This is obviously exciting news for wannabe space travellers and the public in general.
Space tourists can visit the space station from 2020 onwards, and the costs are going to be about USD 35,000 (Rs 25 lakhs) per night on board. NASA says they are even likely to encourage business ventures at their space station.
The plan is to have two short private astronaut missions every year to transport the space tourists to the space station. Private space tourists will be allowed to travel aboard the space station for up to 30 days. Private commercial entities are going to be entrusted with the selection of space tourists as well as ensuring their medical fitness and training requirements.
No Astronaut Wants Spoilt Brats In Space!
NASA’s announcement is part of the move towards the complete privatisation of their prestigious space station. This certainly has radical consequences if there is no proper vetting of private companies and individuals entering this totally new ball game.
However, not every company or individual is mindful of space environment, its contamination, and problem of space debris, as much as professionals from reputed space agencies are.
Professionally trained astronauts selected for space missions are among the most disciplined, physically fit, and mentally-balanced human beings on this planet. This cannot be said of any random individual or company with deep pockets. One seat for this trip is going to cost a whopping USD 58 million.
American millionaire Dennis Tito became the first space tourist to the International Space Station, when he paid Russia around USD 20 million for a round trip in 2001.
One thing is clear: the very last thing professional astronauts would want is bored rich kids playing heavy metal music onboard, when astronauts try to do their experiments in peace!
What Should Be Done To Prevent Space Laws From Being Exploited
It is not a wise idea if the space travel is going to be opened up for anyone and everyone with tons of cash to splash. The space travellers will have to be carefully selected and hand-picked by space agencies themselves, so that they do not become a threat to future professional astronauts.
The massive consequence to the space environment in terms of the sky rocketing volume of space junk and debris is something which needs consideration. It is important to note that professional astronauts ‘live long with very little’. But this is not something an extravagant citizen is used to, in terms of diet, entertainment, garbage disposal or lifestyle in general.
Man-made debris in space is already a matter of huge concern. Large amount of space debris poses a threat to our artificial satellites too.
Increasing this volume of space junk exponentially due to (impending) massive space tourism will be deadly if we do not impose enough restrictions.
Knowing space agencies, it is most likely they will put stringent rules and restrictions for space travellers in place, as to what they can carry or dispose in space or not. However, it is important to note that this control should lie on space agencies alone and not on the private individuals or investors or private business ventures who plan to set up their satellite units onboard the space station. There can be many legal eagles and power brokers trying to find loopholes to abuse this newfound freedom in space.
UN Should Step In & Constitute Panel To Draft Binding Framework For Space Tourism
Maybe it is a good time for international bodies like the United Nations to step in and constitute an empowered panel to draft a careful framework for such future space tourism missions, keeping environmental impact and hazards in mind. Hopefully that will make the rules for space travel globally binding. After all, the health of our planet concerns us all equally.
On one hand, opening up space and space stations for any space enthusiast with well-meaning goals is a good idea. But on the other hand, we need advanced systems in place to ensure that there is proper vetting of individuals and companies before they board space stations which were originally intended for advanced research.
Otherwise it might do more harm than good to space science and research.
Moreover, not everyone is likely to enjoy the tough discipline, hardships and advanced training involved before such space travel either, and they may not be ready to play by the rules. So any potential space tourist must think twice (or ‘n’ times) before spending their lifetime savings on this trip. Once you start from planet Earth, you cannot cancel it instantly just like your weekend Swiggy delivery or daily Uber ride!
As they say, a stitch in time saves nine (planets).
(Dr Aswin Sekhar is an Indian astrophysicist and science writer. He tweets @aswinsek. This is an Opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same )