Space tourism skeptics come out of the woodwork

Posted by Daniel Pendick
on Wednesday, June 27, 2007

So far, the nascent space-tourism industry has enjoyed a global media cuddle. In my own blogs, I've been pretty positive about the idea, seeing a potential boost to interest in space, in general, and the start of a new industry and new wealth. But not everybody is so impressed, judging from a few fascinating tidbits that came across my media radar recently.
A surprisingly class-conscious critique comes to us courtesy of Günter Verheugen, the European Union's commissioner for enterprise and industry. (The commissioners of the EU are roughly equivalent to cabinet ministers in a national government.)

A European aerospace firm, EADS Astrium, recently announced plans to build a ship the size of an executive jet to loft four passengers on a suborbital jaunt. The fare: an astronomical 150,000 to 200,000 Euros. Good thing they have so many kings and princes in Europe! They ought to be lining up.

You would think the commissioner for enterprise and industry of the European Union would be an enthusiastic booster (no pun intended) of the EADS Astrium plan, but he is not. As reported by Reuters, Verheugen "blasted" space-tourism companies. "It's only for the super rich, which is against my social convictions," Reuters quotes him saying.
Whoa! Talk about dissing an industry where it hurts. Would Verheugen denounce a luxury yacht company looking to establish a new shipyard in Europe? And people wonder why unemployment is so high in Europe?

Also recently, a somewhat more serious and credible criticism of the industry emerged on a blog written by David Portree, a historian of space exploration and science writer. Portree said the following:
"I believe, for example, that the current hoo-hah over space tourism and other new forms of space ‘commerce' (sometimes called NewSpace) is not going to be around much longer.
"I think that the odds are against it mainly because piloted spaceflight is expensive and difficult. I think that it's inevitable that, assuming any tourist spacecraft are built, one will fail early on and kill its wealthy passengers. When it does, the fledgling industry will die. A space voyage to low-Earth orbit would be a joyride, not something anyone needs to do ...
"Newspace people like to use the early days of aviation as an analogy, but it doesn't make sense. Aviation worked because it provided a better way of accomplishing something people wanted done; that is, traveling quickly to and from cities and countries where they had business. Tourist spaceflight won't do anything similar any time soon."
The NASA Watch web site dismissed Portree's blog as a "remarkably ignorant posting," but I think he offers a brilliant and fresh take on space tourism — especially when he points out that some space-tourism people think they should get federal support to develop what would certainly have no obvious benefit to the nation as a whole, except to give people with excess funds — lots of excess dollars and Euros — something fun to do.
Mr. Portree, I'd like to introduce you to this guy in Europe named Günter Verheugen ...

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