“Anyone concerned with fundamental civil space issues and policies, or seriously interested in the march of humankind out into space, should read this stimulating book. For if the fundamental observations made by Ashford and Collins are widely appreciated, the publishing of this book could be seen as a watershed event in the civil space area.
The rapid acceleration of civil space activities can be dated from the Soviet launch of Sputnik and its successor artificial Earth satellites, and the US response, in its Apollo programme, to the national security threat that this posed. For the 20 years since men visited the Moon the civil space area has seen continued success in spacecraft exploration of the Solar System, the use of satellites to observe the Earth and assist in communications, and the continued visiting of low-Earth orbit by a small number of people. But it has also been marked by the inability of its leaders to convince the public that other things are worth doing, especially considering the enormous public cost of doing almost anything in space.
Civil space leaders have not been able to break out of the Cold War mould that saw the creation of programmes and institutions primarily devoted to securing national political advantage in space. But the national security imperative that drove civil space authorities is long since spent, and now these activities are conceived by scientists, engineers and government bureaucrats. Unfortunately, the activities that appeal to them do not involve many of us in any direct fashion, no longer have political value (except in the provision of high-salaried jobs) and no longer offer sound hope of large economic return.
The civil space area has experienced a failure of imagination and purpose and, consequently, its leaders cannot command constituencies that are large enough and committed enough to allow them to proceed with confidence. (Note the frustrations of the Freedom programme.)
Ashford and Collins come directly to grips with this situation in a compact book that is professionally sound, well written and instructively (and handsomely) illustrated. They focus upon the fundamental flaw in today\’s civil space activities: these activities are driven by much too narrow scientific and technological interests, not the interests of large numbers of people who, for their own reasons, have a deep interest in space. They show that a large fraction of our adult population wishes to take a trip to space, and that government civil space programmes ignore this interest. And they advance the thesis that a series of steps now could be taken by aerospace, commercial and industrial interests, with appropriate government cooperation, that could lead to the creation of a large, exciting and profitable private sector space tourism business.
Professionals should not be put off by the book’s ‘popular’ title. One author has considerable experience in the aerospace industry, including surface-space passenger vehicle design; the other lectures on economics and played an important role in the Juno programme. Over years they have published many professional papers related to space tourism in general, the staged development of its business market, and the acquisition of the inherently safe and low-unit-cost vehicle fleets and in-space infrastructure needed to serve them.
They proceed through the background to the subject of actual space tourism; the kinds of technology required; the fundamental concern about passenger safety; what a person could expect to experience during a trip to space and the non-Earthly things to be done while there; and the economic and other benefits that would accompany the emergence of a large space tourist enterprise.
In the space area, people relate to the personalities, values and activities of other people (astronauts) far more than to inanimate matter (Mars) or to technology (spacecraft). But each government passenger-carrying Shuttle trip costs the public some $0.5 billion. Consequently, the matter of people visiting space is now very contentious. Unfortunately, for years debates about ‘the role of people in space’ have focused on the ‘person v robot’ argument that trivializes the discussion. People should go to space not only to be the means by which some government task is to be accomplished; rather, people should go to space as an end in itself. We should have the opportunity to go to space to do what is of interest and value to us – whether or not our doing so is of interest to our governments.
That is, seeing that large numbers of us have the opportunity to pay to do what only a small government elite is now paid to do should be the most fundamental civil space goal of spacefaring, democratic, free enterprise societies. The authors understand this. And they clearly suggest how it could come about.
We have just seen an ‘ordinary’ Japanese citizen take a trip to space. Imagine how different the civil space area would be if space were opened up to the general public, if space tourism were to burgeon as a business, if the number of space visitors were to increase by two or three orders of magnitude, and if vehicle fleets were designed and operated to carry tens of millions of pounds per year of privately paid-for passenger payload. And imagine what a large and influentialpolitical consituency this could provide to government science and exploration activities involving the Moon and Mars.Your Spaceflight Manual should be thought of not only as a manual for potential space tourists but, more importantly, as a guide to all in the world’s governments, aerospace industries and universities concerned about mankind’s expansion out into space and ‘how to get there from here’.
T F Rogers
President – Sophron FoundationMcLean, VA, USASpace Policy