Yeoh Siew Hoon goes into orbital fantasies about space tourism, which is coming to a rocket near you.
I remember when I first heard Dr Buzz Aldrin speak of the day when space tourism would become a reality.
That was in April 2000 when the second man to land on the moon – the man who followed Neil Armstrong – addressed a tourism conference and shared his vision of the day when an ordinary man would orbit in space.
I remember his eyes flaming with almost maniacal passion during our interview when he spoke of recycling rockets and converting payloads into hotels.
For us earthlings at the conference then, it was hard to imagine such a day, and most laid it at the door of one man's fantasy.
A year later, Dennis Tito became the world's first space tourist, paying US$20 million for the privilege. Tito took a ride in a Russian space shuttle, and declared, "I had the time of my life," after landing somewhere in Central Asia.
Tito's exploits were followed soon after by another person who obviously has more money than he knows what to do with – Mark Shuttleworth, the South African tycoon. I can't recall what Shuttleworth paid but I think it wasn't as high as Tito's.
Anyway, it seems Buzz' vision is coming true – space tourism is coming to a rocket near us.
The latest news is, the Virgin man, Sir Richard Branson, is getting into the space race. He is investing US$100 million in a new company.
Virgin Galactic, dubbed 'the world's first commercial space tourism operator', will have a fleet of five spacecraft based on aircraft designer Burt Rutan's Space-ShipOne, which last week won the US$10 million Ansari X prize for building the first private space vehicle to reach an altitude of 100km twice within two weeks.
Branson's company aims to make astronauts of 3,000 people over five years after a maiden flight in 2007. (Pick me! Pick me!)
And as a sign of how serious the Americans are taking this, the US Congress has approved new regulations for the industry including required disclosure to passengers of possible health risks, such as:
"Excuse me, maam, but your stomach may fall out of your bottom" or "Excuse me, sir, but your heart may pop out of your mouth." (I made these up.)
Other signs to show how serious this space race has become:
- At least three other companies besides the Virgin/ Scaled Composites alliance are expected to build viable private passenger rockets over the next few years – XCor and Armadillo of the United States and daVinci of Canada.
- So-called spaceports are vying to become the hub of choice – the Mojave spaceport in California is SpaceShipOne's base but the X-Prize Cup will operate from the South-west Regional Spaceport in New Mexico. (Move over, Changi)
Although Virgin will start flying from Mojave, it hopes to move on first to Florida and then to unspecified locations in Britain, Singapore and Australia.
The media experts are calling this the space-age equivalent of aviation's barnstorming days in the early 20th century.
"The big technological leap will occur when commercial companies achieve orbital flight. From there, it would be a relatively small step to building space hotels," says one report, which says Sir Richard is dreaming of a Virgin lunar base.
Experts say the technology could also revolutionise transport on earth, making it possible to fly from Paris to New York, for instance, in less than an hour.
Robert Bigelow, billionaire head of Bigelow Aerospace and founder of the Budget Suites hotel chain, has proposed a new prize of US$50 million for the first private team to achieve orbital flight.
He is looking for a way to launch his lightweight inflatable space 'habitats', which he is counting on to create the first civilian space outposts.
All this is very exciting news of course but my take on this is:
Let's wait for them to get more space shuttles in the air so we can get lower fares. Look at how air fares have plunged in the last 20 years – space fares should also come down correspondingly. Soon, there will be low cost space flights as well.
I am writing a song called "Virgin on the Moon" and will be selling it to Sir Richard. He will need it when he sets up his lunar base. Look at what the song "Man on the Moon" did for REM.The SHY Report
A regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry by one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, Yeoh Siew Hoon.
Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her company's mission is "Content, Communication, Connection". She is a writer, speaker, facilitator, trainer and events producer. She is also an author, having published "Around Asia In 1 Hr: Tales of Condoms, Chillies & Curries". Her motto is ‘free to do, and be'.
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