Space settlement proponents and space tourism proponents make up two substantial groups that have significant overlap. The goals of both are mutually reinforcing. The members of the two groups are forward looking, dynamic, energetic, enthusiastic, motivated, and strongly pro-space. Part of the longterm NSS strategy is to broker an ideological marriage between the two. This is a major reason why Ad Astra places substantial emphasis on the issues of both. Such a marriage would not only be beneficial to space settlement and space tourism, but also to humanity’s future in space.
Space settlement requires a viable space economy to generate jobs for space settlers. Earth’s history has demonstrated that an economy based on free enterprise is superior to other types of economies, such as those totally controlled by a government. Thus for space settlement, we want a free enterprise space economy. Such an economy would also provide enormous benefits for those who remain on Earth.
The major approaches to creating a free enterprise space economy are top-down, bottom-up, and then some various combinations of the two. In the topdown case, the government develops the technology, and when it becomes profitable, it is turned over to the private sector. The early history of communication satellites is a good example of this.
Space tourism is an example of the bottom-up approach. Private enterprise develops the technology with little help from the government beyond friendly regulation and possibly tax policy. Space tourism and, more generally, the entrepreneurial space sector (which includes the new entrepreneurial launch companies) will expand beyond its current near low-Earth orbit focus deeper into space. This expansion will be increasingly conducive to space settlement.
A successful space tourism industry will create political pressure for the government to do more to promote a space economy via both the top-down and bottom-up approaches. Indeed, the potential of entrepreneurial space has already inspired NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. This $500-million program will partially pay for the entrepreneurial development of a new launch vehicle to provide transportation to the International Space Station and significantly lower launch costs.
However, space tourism has a problem. Due to high ticket prices, space tourism is open to the attack that it is a dangerous, elitist frivolity for the rich. Such attacks have already been made. When the first tourist dies in space, the ethics of space tourism will be attacked hard and consequently will need a great deal of support. Space settlement provides a powerful defense against such attacks.
Space tourism is not just about fun for the rich. It is a noble endeavor, a major step toward space settlement broadly defined and its immense benefits for all. This is an important selling point for potential space tourists. Many former tourists to the International Space Station have mentioned that they saw their trip as a way to advance human expansion into space.
A good method for convincing people to buy something is to hit them both low and high. The low in the case of space tourism is the personal enjoyment and adventure that the tourist will experience. The high in this case is the fact that by doing something enjoyable, they will also be contributing to the noble cause of space settlement.
An ideological marriage between space settlement and space tourism supporters will benefit both partners. The success of space tourism will help develop the free enterprise space economy needed for space settlement. Reciprocally, space settlement provides a noble justification for space tourism. Such a marriage will create a powerful coalition between two of the most enthusiastic groups of space supporters to the great benefit of our cause and the future of humanity.
This article was written by Mark Hopkins, Senior Vice President and Senior Operating Officer of the National Space Society. The article originally appeared in Ad Astra, Winter, 2008.