Commercial Spaceflight: Dream or Reality?

Commercial Spaceflight: Dream or Reality?

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“Commercial flights to the Moon are going to happen. They might not happen next year, they might not happen in five years – but they will happen.” This prophecy comes from James A Arey, a Pan American World Airways Spokesperson, and highlights how the reality of the future of space flight, run by companies, for profit is a when not an if. Space flight has been many things across history, from only something that the most idealistic scientist could dream of to a central political conflict(?) in the Cold War. While space travel might have been invented and managed by scientists, the main push behind it has never been anything as utopian as the simple betterment and furthering of society as a whole. Space travels latest drivers, names such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson, are in many ways no less amoral than their predecessors, but the benefits they provide may be greater.

Much of space travels history has been pioneered by two groups, NASA and The Soviet Union Space Program. Both programs were giving their funding and direction from their country’s respective leaders, the presidents of The United States of America and the General Secretaries of The Soviet Union. Both of these sides main interest was national prestige, and outdoing the other. This is not to take away from the motivations of the individual scientists, engineers and astronauts. For many of them their work was not about ideology or politics, but about exploration and furthering of humanities knowledge as a whole. But even with such moralistic intentions they could not have done their work without the government’s financial support. Today’s scientists are straddled with the same problem, space travel is expensive, it is near impossible for any organisation to be able to further the technology without having a plan to make money back. Whilst governments can write it off as another uptick in the national debt, any individuals who want to undertake the task will need a business model, thus the (appropriately) sky high ticket price of commercial space travel. To condemn the latest push in space travel one will need to also condemn every previous one, as their situations are not so different.

Technological development isn’t like Dragons Den: much of the worlds greatest technology was not invented by someone to fulfil its most used purpose today. Many advancements in radio, computers, engines and sonar were invented for military use. But these advances now are a fundamental basis of our modern society. Space travel is broadly similar, many technologies invented in the space race are common place today, such as wireless headsets and even cordless portable vacuums. Elon Musk’s SpaceX alone has invented reusable rockets, something that NASA is now using to move supplies to the International Space Station. Using space travel as a means to create these technologies is far better than war as instead of creating destruction it creates the means in which we can explore and experience space.

Whether or not people should be rich enough to experience space is ultimately besides the point, as all technology and advances start extremely expensive, but slowly become cheaper and become more available to the general public as the improvements in technology allow for lower costs. In 1930 the cost of a flight was about half the cost of a car, today flights can be had for as low as £20. Space is already going in the same direction; SpaceX’s reusable rockets are around 40% cheaper than the previous rockets. The first commercial flight happened in 1914, and it flew for only 23 minutes, where commercial space travel will be in 100 years from now one can only guess at, but history tells us it will not remain as a rich man’s toy, instead space-flight will become as cemented in our society as taking a plane to Spain for your summer holiday.

About author

Aaron Petty

Australian born Economics and Politics student at the University of Reading. Passionate about a wide variety of topics, from politics to music and gaming.