Illustration by Hannah Robinson
The year is 2050 and summer is here. You are looking for the perfect relaxing getaway with plenty of sun. Your local travel agent recommends a short break to… outer space?
Nowadays catching a flight to Spain, New York or Dubai has become as commonplace as getting on a bus or a train. Whilst prior generations were content with a weekend by the British seaside, the millennial zeitgeist is dominated by a desire to go everywhere and see everything. In 2016, the number of air travellers surged to 3.8 billion people, an increase no doubt aided by the adverse decrease in flight prices that opened out the industry to the masses. Popular budget airline Ryanair averages just £37 for a flight to Europe. As platforms like Instagram have revolutionised our expectations of a summer holiday, we face an increasing social pressure to fill each day with newfound experiences.
Enter Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk – the billionaire owners of Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX; those view the advent of tourism in outer space not as a ludicrous daydream but a marketable (and therefore, profitable) venture.
Space tourism appears to be an enterprise that everyone wants to invest into; President Joko Widodo has recently been in talks with Musk over the possible construction of a SpaceX launch site in Indonesia, speaking of the demand for this industry as humankind’s next ‘giant leap’. For Musk and his peers, time is most definitely money and the first company to monopolise private space travel will no doubt have a willing market as well as investors.
Currently, the only successful tourist expeditions to date were completed by a Russian Soyuz spacecraft; a shuttle which carried seven civilians to the ISS under the publicised price of $20 million. For the lesser but still ultra-rich, tickets on board the Virgin Galactic reusable craft start from $250,000 and have already been secured by celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Bieber.
It appears that even the most devastating impacts of the coronavirus pandemic have not hindered this space race. Whilst 2020 was a lacklustre year for the majority of the population, SpaceX was launching 26 missions right over our heads and promising to send three lucky tourists to the International Space Station (ISS) as early as late 2021. Likewise, after slight delays for Virgin Galactic, the first of three final test flights were conducted on 12th December 2020. These will be the last before the spacecraft begins commercial use; I am sure this provided Branson with some light relief from a year that otherwise saw the Virgin brand bought to its knees.
Such obscene demonstrations of wealth such as this highlight the clear social divide more than ever. In the year unemployment skyrocketed, and the furlough scheme was extended for a second time, only a lucky few could afford to consider travelling to space for leisure, whilst many children were left at home, hungry. For the vast majority of the population (once we have returned to semi-normality), we will be stuck with beaches, bikinis and Benidorm instead of a city break to Mars.
There are still many questions left unanswered – is Wi-Fi available in space? Can I get a tan whilst wearing a spacesuit? What seems inevitable, however, is that space tourism will continue to grow in the next few years. On a brighter note, at least this means we no longer need to worry about eating the rich as Jean-Jacques Rousseau once urged, now we can strand them in outer space instead.