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Space Tourism And Research: When Can Civilians Take Part?

The entry of private players in space research has kept the world buzzing. The domain reserved for government-owned associations is now open for billionaires who are pursuing forward not only for research but recreation as well. Yes, space tourism is already happening. A normal civilian may question the necessity of such extravagant uses. A deep dive reveals investments in space research are not only beneficial for science, but also for the earth underneath. It is likely that in the near future, civilians will be traveling and working in space- as shown in the sci-fi movies. 

Recent Developments in Space Tourism

Elon Musk’s SpaceX program kickstarted the space race among billionaires. Soon other billionaires also joined in the space race. There have been talks and criticism about the useless spending and flaunting of wealth. However, the visionaries believe there is infinite potential and solutions to grave problems. An environmental vision that Bezos holds is that industries in the near future will shift from the earth’s to space- reducing global pollution. At present, one of the main targets of current space research is the development of reusable rockets that can make routine trips into space.

Blue Origin

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos took off to space for 10 minutes and 10 seconds. He brought along his brother Mark, eighty-two years old space race pioneer Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen, an eighteen-year-old student. Blue Origin built the space capsule, New Shepard. It is a space research company from Washington, Kent-based with Bezos at its helm. The 3500-employee strong company builds rocket engines for launching satellites into space. 

While the manned flight took place on 20th July 2021, Blue Origin has been successfully sending the New Shepard capsule unmanned as early as 2015 from its Texas facility. The name has been derived from Alan Shepard, the first US national in space. Previously the New Shepard consistently reached a test altitude over 100 km and exceeded Mach 3 speeds. Like its previous flights, the manned capsule reached space over the Karman Line- unanimously agreed as the international space boundary. On reaching the specified point, the capsule separated itself from the booster, allowing the crew to experience weightlessness. Both the capsule and the booster engine made successful soft landings on earth. 

The next Blue Origin suborbital trip is scheduled to take place on October 12. As of now, two tech entrepreneurs have been confirmed for the upcoming flight- Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries. Chris is a former NASA engineer and a co-founder of Planet Labs, a company that operates over 150 observational satellites around the lower Earth orbit. Meanwhile, Glen co-founded Medidata Solutions, the world’s most widely-used clinical research platform. 


Through SpaceX, Elon Musk is the busiest billionaire of space research. The company recently won the contract to build the lunar lander for NASA’s long-awaited Artemis Moon program- winning the bid from Blue Origin. There may be some setbacks in the scheduled 2024 deadline but one thing’s for certain- crewed missions to the moon’s surface will resume again.

SpaceX also has other active projects. A SpaceX Crew Dragon was launched into space on 15 September 2015. Labeled as Inspiration 4, the mission has the first all-civilian crew. Yes, not one of the four crew members is an astronaut. Funded by billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Jared Isaacman, the project is actually a multi-million fundraiser charity for St Jude’s hospital. The members of the crew include St. Jude assistant physician and cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux, geology professor/former NASA candidate Sian Procor, and data engineer Christopher Sembroski.

Inspiration4 capsule was launched on top of the SpaceX Falcon9 rocket. The destination is said to be 80 miles higher than the International Space Station. While orbiting Earth, the crew will be able to see the blue planet through the two windows and an additional glass dome installed over the capsule top at the Crew Dragon’s previous ISS locking door site. The crew reentered the earth’s atmosphere after three days. Isaac funded the entire journey costs and deposited 100 million USD of the proposed USD 200 million fundraisers for free care to cancer-affected children at St. Judes. 

Space Tourism: Criticism from Bill Gates

The rush towards space tourism drew criticism from Microsoft founder Bill Gates. According to him, better allocation of the space exploration budget is possible through improving conditions on earth itself. With climate change and environmental concerns posing a threat to survival in the near future, his words make sense. 

Post-Mircosoft, Bill Gates works in philanthropic research for a significant part of the last two decades. His foundation is working to eradicate malaria and HIV. Space research experts on the other hand believe that further developments can improve conditions on the planet we inhabit.

Advantages of Space Research

While space tourism is seen as a recreational activity by many, it can not be denied that there are potential benefits to space research and exploration. A few notable cases include:

  • Use of Satellites in Alleviating Poverty

Satellites can help in tracking down physical resources available on the earth. With effective use, they can improve living conditions all over the world. Activities like mapping settlements of towns or villages make use of satellite’s abilities to thoroughly examine the earth’s surface. Another possible benefit is using them to assess economic conditions underneath- a function in which satellites can perform far better than any government machinery. In the previous decade, 14 nations in Africa simply did not possess the resources to conduct a poverty survey of their citizens. The right information is crucial for fighting off poverty. This also explains why economically backward nations have launched their own space programs, with the aid of other nations.

  • Better Weather Forecasts and Predictions

India has utilized satellite programs for improving weather predictions. The results have been remarkable, and it is important for the world’s second most populated country to have the information beforehand. This comes in handy in several ways for a geographically diverse nation like India. Governments use this information on rainfalls, storms, and other weather phenomena to provide agriculture recommendations to the farmers- such as the right time to plant and cultivate crops for optimum results. They also use it for the effective dispatch of disaster response teams in the case of cyclones, floods, and other calamities. 

Also Read: Space Botany Benefitting Earth: NASA’s Research On Cotton Plants And Kidney-on-a-Chip

  • Space Mining

Though not technically an advantage at the present, outer bodies from space have large reserves of metals and minerals. For example, the moon is rich in rare earth metals which find use in electronic components manufacturing. Most of these elements are mined from treacherous ores where the probability of life loss is high. Also several of these ores have inhumane working conditions. The extraction, refining, and purification processes also cause a high amount of pollution in addition to releasing toxic by-products. Mass contamination is also possible if the byproducts leak into the natural or drinking water supplies. 

Space mining can reduce most of these side effects on earth. As an alternative, space mining would remove the exploitative labor practices, while causing a lower amount of pollution to the earth than direct mining. In a futuristic world, miners on earth could get employment from space travel industries. Also, with a higher supply of rare minerals, electronics manufacturing would be cheaper, resulting in further innovation and proliferation of intelligent machines and devices.

Also Read: How Blockchain is Improving the Global Mining Industry

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