Früher sehnte man sich nach einer Reise zum Mond, heute träumt man von einem Flug in den Weltraum. Doch bevor man nach den Sternen greift, sollte man erst Ordnung auf dem eigenen Planeten schaffen.
Elisabeth Ribbans on space tourism
In late 1969, just months after the first moon landing, my mum took me to visit the school I would be starting at when I reached my fifth birthday the following year. I left spellbound: not because of this brave new world of classrooms, teachers or even a swimming pool, but because of the “space experience” that children had created in one of the corridors. I couldn’t believe that kids not much older than me had made such a magical replica of that circle in the sky. It was only a clever use of cardboard and paint, but it was enough to make me want two things very much: to go to school and to go to the moon.
The first ambition was a certainty, but there’s never been a real chance I’d achieve the second one. Now, though, a child with big dreams might expect to take a trip beyond earth’s atmosphere. A number of companies, including Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk’s Spacex and Blue Origin, owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, have announced plans to take tourists into space, perhaps as soon as 2019.
Prices are suitably astronomical, but according to my sums*, in 1939, a return ticket for a first transatlantic passenger flight cost nearly nine months’ salary for the average American. Now that it’s possible to go from the US to the UK and back for as little as $390, less than a week’s average pay, surely space travel won’t always be just for the super-rich.
Yet, now that this day is almost here, I wonder if I’ve been right to wish for the stars all these years. It is claimed that space tourism will change our view of the world literally and figuratively; inspire a new generation of engineers; create jobs; boost the economy (market research firm Technavio estimates space tourism will be worth almost $35 billion by 2021); increase scientific knowledge and drive technological innovation.
Nevertheless, warnings are being made of the potential dangers to the ozone layer and earth’s climate from a rushed increase in rocket emissions. Earlier this year, a report by scientists at the Aerospace Corporation, a US non-profit, called for further research before we reach a tipping point.
We’ve already filled the air with greenhouse gases and the streets with pollution; we’ve filled the seas with deadly plastics and half the population with too much food. The idea of circling the moon for fun or moving to Mars because we’ve exhausted this planet seems increasingly distasteful.
Space travel should be a treat and, as any five-yearold knows, treats must be earned. When we’ve tidied up down here, then maybe the countdown for up there can begin.
*1939: airline ticket = $675 (New York to Southampton return with Panam), against a median US salary of $956 (figure for 1940) 2018: $390 (Birmingham to New York return with Primeraair), against a $31,100 median US salary (figure for 2016) Source: United States Census Bureau (www.census.gov)
ELISABETH RIBBANS is a British journalist and editorial consultant. She is also a former managing editor of TheGuardian in London.