How close are we to commercial space travel?
"To boldly go where no man has ever gone before"
Star Trek: The Original Series
Space has always been a subject of mystery and fascination. What lies in the void and what the unknown holds is something extensively imagined in science fiction movies like Star Trek and Star Wars and read about in Isaac Asimov novels. However, times are progressing and human beings being curious, and bearing the affluent resources, are making tremendous leaps in making space travel commercialised and an experience perhaps we all can have once in our lives. With ambitious figures like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos more determined than ever to make human beings a multi-planet species, space is coming closer and closer to earth.
On 15 September, in another milestone trip for commercial space travel, Elon Musk's SpaceX launched four civilians into the deepest orbit Americans have gone to in more than a decade. According to a live stream of the launch, a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Crew Dragon space capsule blasted out from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. The capsule carrying amateur astronauts of the Inspiration4 mission — a billionaire businessman, a geoscientist, a physician assistant, and an aerospace engineer —separated from the booster about 12 minutes after launch. The capsule then began its journey to a 360-mile orbit above Earth.
According to SpaceX, such an orbit would be higher than that of the International Space Station and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Hubble Space Telescope. Since 2009, when NASA astronauts last worked on fixing the Hubble Space Telescope, Americans have not gone that far into space. After roughly three days, the capsule will have splashed down off the coast of Florida, returning to Earth.
Although this is the first all-civilian crew traveling to orbit on a mission arranged by private parties, the entire trip was funded by billionaire founder of payments-processing company Shift4Payments, Jared Isaacman. This makes one question, will commercial space travel be for everyone or just another opulent experience?
It is easy to judge billionaires who have more than enough money to invest into space travel and write it off as just another elitist hobby. Let's take a step back into earth; we do not often judge people vacationing in places like Dubai rather, we strive for the moments they experience. In this perspective, it might be worth asking, how is space travel any different? We could also assume that given that this is just the first step into commercialising space travel, more advancements in the future decades are bound to follow. Perhaps, with technology and space-infatuated minds at work, vacationing the orbits would become affordable and something we could scratch off our bucket list.
The mysteries of space and how to get there have been under human observation for decades. The knowledge we have now, the possibilities made possible, are still being perfected. Watching earth from space ought to be an humbling experience, in which we realise how insignificant our planet is in the vast galaxy yet, acknowledge ourselves as fortunate beings to potential and curiosity.