Can 'space tourism' actually help with scientific discovery?

Can the billionaires shooting themselves beyond the atmosphere for a bit of fun actually help scientific discovery?

Eleanor Copeman
5th November 2021
Billionaire Jeff Bezos' rocket 'Blue Origin' taking off for a space tourism excursion. Image credits: Flickr
Over the past year, we’ve seen huge leaps in privately funded space flight, with both Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk having manned flights outside the atmosphere. They’ve both made it pretty clear that their intentions are to ultimately set up commercialised space flight, often termed 'space tourism'.

There are clearly some concerns about this, as the FAA have instated a new regulation that changes the definition of astronaut. Now, in order to qualify, the crew have to not only fly into space but also do something to contribute to the actual flight, and as Bezos and his crew, who this change was likely targeting, were on a fully automated space craft, none of them can qualify as astronauts.

There's no reason [commercialised space travel] can't coexist with scientific voyages

Still, such changes do not tackle the inevitable rise of non-scientific space flight, as while Bezos and his crew were likely disappointed by the sudden change that robbed them of their astronaut status, it is unlikely that such changes will deter hopeful space tourists. While the title of astronaut would be nice, for many the opportunity to go into space is a valuable enough experience on its own.

However, that doesn’t mean that space travel for scientific purposes is dead. There’s still so much we don’t know about even our own solar system, as shown by the research on Mars, and NASA, among other scientific organisations across the globe, still plan to send manned flights there in for scientific purposes.

Left: William Shatner (the Star Trek actor). Right: Jeffrey Bezos (the billionaire Blue Origin founder who took him to space on a 'tourist' excursion). Image credit: Instagram

Additionally, we’ve not even sent unmanned space flights to most of the planets within our Solar System, and it’s likely that we eventually will, so even though commercialised space travel is going to be possible in the near future, there’s no reason it can’t coexist with scientific voyages. In fact, some of the technological advances made by the private sector for the purpose of commercialised flights could be greatly advantageous to scientific voyages, so if anything, the rise of space tourism could be very beneficial to research.

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