I was 8 years old when the Cosmonauts and Mercury astronauts first went into space. I grew up watching the missions on television, and avidly reading science fiction, particularly concerning space flight. While I was growing up, I wasn't particularly focused on getting into space, and until a couple of years ago I would never say that I had wanted to be an astronaut. I joined the L5 Society in college, and just assumed as a matter of course that I would indeed one day attend the meeting on an orbital colony at the L5 point to disolve the society. After the Challenger accident I grew pessimistic for many years about my own chances of getting into space. Still I joined the National Space Society when it merged with the L5 Society. Now when asked, I always say that I want to be an astronaut when I grow up. I fully intend to reach low earth orbit. I yearn to experience weightlessness, to see the Earth from space, and to see the stars without any atmosphere in the way. In 2020 I'll only be 67 and intend to pay my way into space, if anyone is selling tickets. I'm betting that there will be commercial companies selling trips to low earth orbit before then, using next generation earth to orbit vehicles.
I intend to do this, but currently guestimate it at only a 25% chance that tickets will be available. What can we do to increase the odds? Stay informed, and support organizations working to promote a tourist industry in space. Some of these organizations are:
X Prize - The New Spirit of St. Louis, the X PRIZE Foundation proposes a ten-million dollar international space prize to stimulate the development of commercial space travel for private citizens. Ann and I are Senior Associates with a long-term charitable commitment to the X PRIZE, and attended the May, 1998 event in Washington, D.C. where the X PRIZE statue was placed in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and the X PRIZE Sweepstakes was announced. We also attended the September 1997 event at the St. Louis Science Center where the X PRIZE offices are located. I highly recommend it as a way to accelerate the development of space tourism and cheaper access to space.
Scaled Composites - Leading X PRIZE contender. Burt Rutan's company, which developed the Voyager aircraft, first and only aircraft to fly non-stop around the world without refueling. The Proteus is a high altitude long endurance lifting aircraft capable of lifting a recoverable sub-orbital manned rocket ship to high altitude and launching it. A full-size prototype of the "mother-ship" completed initial flight tests in September, 1998.
Pioneer Rocketplane - Leading X PRIZE contender. Robert Zubrin's company. The key idea behind the Pioneer rocketplane called Pathfinder is that it can be aerially 'refueled' from a tanker such as the US Air Force KC-135. This has caused some people to describe it as 'stage-and-a-half' rather than a true Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO) vehicle. The Rocketplane will take off and land horizontally from a large commercial runway. They completed their fourth significant design iteration in November, 1998.
Kelly Space & Technology - Leading X PRIZE contender. The Eclipse Astroliner is prepared and fueled at the takeoff airport. The spacecraft is towed to release altitude behind a 747. Upon release the main engine is throttled up for boost phase. The Astroliner nominally coasts to an apogee altitude of 182.88 kilometers (113 statute miles or 600,000 feet). The Eclipse Astroliner then glides to a landing at the takeoff airport for checkout and refueling prior to the next flight. Using SBA and SBIR awards for partial funding. Demonstrated Eclipse Tow Launch capability in February, 1998, using a modified F-106. Using incremental development plan, involving initial development of sub-orbital Sprint vehicle.
Rotary Rocket - Not currently an X PRIZE contender. The Roton is a piloted commercial space vehicle designed from the outset to provide rapid and routine access to orbit for both its two-person crew and their cargo. The Roton is a fully reusable, single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) space vehicle designed to transport up to 7000 lbs to and from LEO in the most cost-effective manner. The Roton will enter commercial service in the year 2000 with a target price per flight of $7 million. It appears similar in concept to the DC-X, but uses rotors to come to a soft landing rather than landing on a pillar of fire. Scaled Composites is building their airframe. They are constructing a vehicle assembly vehicle in the Mojave desert in November, 1997.
The Mars Society - Founded in 1998 and held well attended first annual conference in August in Boulder, CO. Dedicated to furthering the exploration and settlement of the Red Planet. Ann and I have recently become members of the Mars Society. This movement has been excited and energized by Mars Direct, Robert Zubrin's compelling ideas for bootstrapping our way onto Mars, and his excellent book, The Case for Mars. Kim Robinson's Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) is great science fiction in this vein.
National Space Society - educational and activist organization dedicated to furthering the exploration and development of space. I highly recommend the Ad Astra bimonthly magazine for staying informed.
The SETI Institute - on a related note, I've long been interested in the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, and after Congress cancelled the NASA SETI program in 1993, Ann and I started making charitable contributions to the SETI Institute. I strongly encourage others to do the same. I highly recommend the recent movie Contact with Jody Foster, as good entertainment that deals intelligently with the similarities and differences between scientific and religious frames of reference, in the context of SETI.
Incredible Adventures - this is the tourist agency that can put you in a Russian MIG or in a Russian Zero-G "vomit comet".
Frontier Files, Interglobal 21st Century Mall - Interesting online periodical of space news and commentary.
Practical Tourism in Space, by Samuel Coniglio - interesting paper.
Space Frontier Foundation - has held a series of annual conferences. Serious organization, only peripherally involved in space tourism.
First Millennial Foundation - reads like radical fringe, narrowly focused on getting out there as a civilization. I basically agree with their point of view, but there is more to life than just getting into space, relentlessly outwards.