Sunday, October 01, 2006

Space Tourism

While Anousheh Ansari isn't really an ordinary woman, being able to fork out US$20million for a 10-day space trip, she describes her recently-concluded zero-g adventure the way your friend might describe a first kiss. Her blog tells all, including why having toes is particularly important and what space smells like, in a very casual and inspiring style.

With her accomplishments as a businesswoman, plus having been recently thrust into the limelight, product endorsements are sure to come. Being the first woman space tourist, this Iranian-American is quite pretty at 40. She could be a spokeswoman for Velcro, lip-gloss, shampoo... or insurance.

However, by 2008 or 2009, your dreams of space travel can be fulfilled. Your US$200,000 can get you on a 2.5-hour space trip courtesy of Virgin Galactic. (It sounds so... Jetsons!) Okay, so it's not a trip in the strictest sense, more like a commute. And the weightless experience may just be a few minutes, afterwhich you'll have about 40 seconds to get back to your seat before the ship heads back to Earth.

And the interior design prototype for the spacecraft-- a modified version of SpaceShipTwo--was recently released. Reminds me of those 1960s scifi-inspired designs.

We can expect the trips to be longer as the years go by, and maybe we'll see the beginning of space hotels in 40, or even 20 years. It's not far-fetched given the rate technology has been advancing. Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space only 45 years ago. (Has it been that long??)

As space tourism becomes in vogue, we can expect to see more and more celebrities and wealthy adventurers adding space travel to their hobbies. Hollywood would start churning out more space travel movies, not for the science fiction aspect, but more to explore other themes--romance, horror, maybe even political thrillers. It won't be long before children fall next in line. We may even witness pregnant women, or the monumental first live birth in outer space, which would pave the way to the advent of space-based communities. Another round of story ideas for Hollywood there.

(On a parallel note, however, those hi-tech folks should start developing plans for undersea communities instead, and governments should start taking alternative energy sources more seriously, given recent environmental concerns. An expert says we've got ten years.)

I consider Ansari's case to be particularly special. Being a woman, she lends a new and more personal perspective. In her blog, she doesn't go much into the techie jargon and focuses instead on the emotional, and sometimes humorous, aspects of the experience. There was one thing that Ansari said that was truly inspiring, as she was looking down towards Earth: you don't see borders.

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