SpaceX via Unsplash

The trip of a lifetime

By Clare Louise Roberts

Commercial space travel is fast becoming an accepted reality, but is it worth it?

Growing up by the sea, the sky at night was clear and brilliant for stargazing. Travelling the galaxy used to be something which we could only experience through our imagination and on screen. Now, with the establishment of new companies focused on commercial flights, it seems that space tourism is on the horizon for us non-astronauts. My nine-year-old self’s dream of going to space is within reach (I couldn’t be a career astronaut because I was going to be a marine biologist full-time, obviously). 

The last NASA-crewed mission to the moon took place in December 1972. The cost of moon missions and the dangers involved were considered too big a risk for the scientific gains and thus did not continue. Today, the independent agency is working towards its “Low Earth Orbit Economy” goal, designed to open up scientific advancements for themselves, and the opportunity to explore space for us. Through collaborating with private companies, NASA has developed and operated new spacecraft, and their recent launches. 

SpaceX is perhaps the most notorious space program with the purpose of commercial travel. However, SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk, is not the only corporate billionaire who is playing astronaut to fulfil a childhood dream of going to space. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, founded Blue Origin, and Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, launched Virgin Galactic. Although no one has travelled to the moon commercially yet, with the development of reusable rockets from these companies, the cost of space travel has decreased, so I imagine it won’t be long until we do. That is, as long as you have an amount ranging from $450,000 to $220,000,000. Between billionaires and a cost of living crisis, the accessibility of space tourism is relative. 

Besides the astronomical cost, how ethical space tourism is should be considered. On a planet suffering from the continued destruction of the Earth’s ecosystems, Bezos and Musks’ answer to saving humanity is to start again on a new planet (for those who can afford it) rather than save the planet already inhabited by us and billions more people. Or at the very least, outsource industries to the moon. Yes, really. 

Predictably, this heightens the controversy of celebrities using their riches to fund a vanity trip 66 miles above Earth, leaving us in a situation where we have celebrities wanting to travel to the moon to film music videos. After touching down from the second crewed flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship, William Shatner, famous for playing Captain James Kirk in Star Trek, said of his journey: “Everybody in the world needs to do this.” Ironically, later on, he spoke of the sadness he felt from seeing Earth’s fragility and the destruction caused by humans.

In 1966, the United Nations formed the Outer Space Treaty to ensure that no nation can own the moon and that it should be used exclusively for peaceful purposes, such as scientific discovery. A more imminent threat than spotting an Amazon warehouse the size of a crater on the moon is space mining. The introduction of mining for metals on the moon could be the dangerous start of a new, space branch of colonialism. As well as this concern, for many cultures and civilisations, the moon is considered sacred and this should inform how we approach our future moon missions.

So, if you were to go, there are daily logistics to consider, the freeze-dried food, and whether or not you need to bring 100 tampons. There are certainly some big questions around safety too. The Titan submersible implosion, for example, is still very much in the public’s minds, and one of Virgin Galactic’s space planes lost a piece of hardware whilst in flight this week.

It’s not just the risk of something going wrong with the rocket. The after-effects of travel outside of Earth’s orbit are still being researched. NASA is designing new ways to counter dangers such as exposure to cosmic radiation which could cause cancer or degenerative diseases. Microgravity can cause loss of bone density. Pathogenic organisms (commonly known as space fungi) are also a significant danger of space travel.

The potential for developments in science to benefit our knowledge and understanding of the world is unfathomable. I would love to go to space one day, as terrifying as the trip might be. However, it is not a simple mission in more than just the practical sense. I would have to think long and hard over whether or not a trip to space is worth the cost to the planet. For now, I can enjoy it from a distance.


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