'Space Tourism' is Problematic – And It's Damaging

Jeff Bezos is set to ride his own rocket to outer space on 20 July.

Tech and Auto
4 min read
'Space Tourism' is Problematic – And It's Damaging

(This story was first published on 14 July 2021. It has been republished from The Quint’s archives as Jeff Bezos is set to ride his own rocket to outer space on 20 July in a bid to make Space accessible to elite tourists.)

Space tourism could be soon a reality, especially after billionaire Richard Branson flew to the edge of space on Sunday, 11 July — a trip that marked a turning point in the entrepreneur’s effort— to help create a space tourism industry.

While some folks cheered him for encouraging space tourism, many on Twitter responded with outrage that not one but three billionaires – Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson – have managed to hoard enough wealth to start their own personal space programs.

With this development, it seems highly possible that sometime in the next few years, rockets will carry paying passengers into space. Sounds cool, right? Not quite.

The hard truth is that space tourism comes at an alarming cost of our planet, is exclusionary and high risk – none of which is indicated in using a word as normal as 'tourism' to boost the endeavour.


Space Travel Only for Wealthy Folks

Despite a lot of buzz surrounding space tourism, the fact remains that it is not for the general public – but billionaires.

People like Elon Musk could easily pay for a trip outside the Earth and back to the planet, and while there is no doubt that space tourism will definitely grow once it begins, it is only restricted to the wealthy.

Virgin Galactic, founded by Branson charges £250,000 (INR 2.56 crores) for a 90-minute trip to orbital space. While Axiom Space, a Houston-based company that arranges training and all aspects of the flights, is charging as much as $55 million (INR 400 crores) for a week-long trip to the International Space Station, and SpaceShipTwo spaceplane which has a waiting list of about 600 passengers is likely to offer one seat for $500,000 (INR 3.56 crore).

The reality is that space tourism is a deadly industry currently, and Virgin Galactic proved that when their test platform, Space Ship 2, crashed and killed the pilot.

As of 2020 alone, there have been more than 30 fatalities during a spaceflight this includes astronauts, cosmonauts and non-astronaut. It is worth noting that going to space is believed as a life-changing experience, but there is no guarantee of coming back to Earth alive.

The Struggle is Real!

Going to space means combined efforts of several hundred people, who are constantly solving problems on how to keep someone alive in space.

Sci-fi writer Sim Karen notes that every minute of astronauts is micromanaged so that they survive. They have to endure strict exercise regimens to keep their bones from turning to goo. Astronauts spend a lot of their time studying systems and conducting repairs on equipment that's continually breaking because space wants to 'kill you'.

According to a report by The Wired, Space's atmosphere consists of subatomic particles , which is called as space radiation. These radiations can cause cancer, and possibly Alzheimer's.

Zero gravity wrecks the body. It makes your cells unable to do their specific functions. Not only does the weightlessness give you kidney stones but it also makes your heart lazy.

Therefore, NASA trains astronauts for several years before they can even send them to International Space Stations.

Not to forget the sleeping situation which is akin to a floating coffin. Astronauts have reported having nightmares while sleeping in space, as they are deprived of air and their own exhaled carbon dioxide forms around their heads. The wi-fi cuts out at regular intervals, and food does not really taste anything, as their sinuses get clogged up due to zero gravity.

So, there is no way that space could be an escape holiday destination. Life in space can never be remotely comfortable to life on Earth. Using a term like 'space tourism' to lure people into space, therefore has damaging consequences.

Effect on Environment

Space tourism will also impact the Earth’s climate for the worse.

A study conducted by Advancing Earth and Space Science found that space rockets can significantly raise temperatures at the poles, due to increased emission of black carbon.

The study further reveals that every rocket launched produces 150 times as much carbon dioxide as a passenger flight. The total carbon produced is approximately 860 million metric tons of carbon produced each year by the aviation industry globally.

As the rocket propels through space, it burns out Kerosene, which releases chemicals including chlorine into the air around it.

Chlorine destroys the ozone layer, that shield the planet from the sun's ultraviolet rays, contributing to global warming.

"Depending on where they're released in altitude, those nitrogen oxides can either contribute to the formation of ozone or depletion of ozone," said Eloise Marais, an associate professor of physical geography at University College London told Mashable.


Unfair to Leave Planet Amid Crisis

Many critics have alleged that while Branson and other billionaires are travelling to space, they are leaving behind a planet with problems that only big investments might be able to fix.

A report by Forbes points out that the big-money focus on space is coming amid the raging wave of the COVID-19 pandemic which is still causing widespread death while historic heatwaves prompt concerns global warming has reached a dangerous new level.

It is worth noting that the United Nations has been repeatedly warning about the widespread famines that will possible affect poor nations as a result of the pandemic, citing a report on 4 July which said that 811 million were undernourished during 2020 alone.

“Is anyone else alarmed that billionaires are having their own private space race while record-breaking heatwaves are sparking a ‘fire-breathing dragon of clouds’ and cooking sea creatures to death in their shells?” former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich tweeted on 7 July.

According to UN World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley, "$6 billion. That’s how much money it would take to save 41 million people set to die of hunger this year worldwide," Beasley sent a tweet late last month urging Musk, Branson and Bezos to team up to fight hunger, saying, “We can solve this quickly!”

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