As NASA ramps down its shuttle missions, a new landscape of opportunities is opening for private space pioneers to pick up contracts for commercial space trips. NASA will begin outsourcing trips to bring cargo to the international space station, hiring SpaceX (founded by Elon Musk of Tesla Motors fame) and a company called Orbital Sciences Corp. for a combined $3.5 billion in contracts.
But MSNBC notes the Obama Administration is also expecting a new brand of space travel to emerge and become a $1 billion dollar industry in the next 10 years: tourism.
Rocket planes and spaceships to carry passengers beyond the atmosphere, similar to the suborbital hops taken by Mercury astronauts Alan Shepard and Virgil “Gus” Grissom in 1961, are being built and tested, with commercial flight services targeted to begin in 2013 or 2014.
“Based on market studies, we expect to see this type of activity result in a $1 billion industry within the next 10 years,” George Nield, associate administrator for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, told the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics.
Either the Obama Administration is expecting a booming economic recovery in the next decade, or they are counting on the Ashton Kutchers of the world starting to take a hell of a lot of space vacations.
Kutcher recently announced he’s signed up for a trip to space on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, which goes high enough to offer passengers a few minutes of weightlessness and costs a cool $200,000 per trip.
At that rate only 5,000 trips would need get booked each year to turn space tourism into a $1 billion industry, which actually doesn’t seem like an impossible task for the 1%.
But it is an interesting prospect as March leads us into an American Spring with the Occupy movement already coming to life after only a week of decent weather, unemployment still at a historically disastrous 8.3%, and home prices hitting new national lows, the lowest since the peak of the crisis in ’08.
The country hasn’t officially been in recession for almost 5 years, and the 99% continue to struggle and fight to hold their place on the economic ladder. Meanwhile for the ultra-rich the next decade will offer: space…the final frontier.