What Astronauts Really Think About Having Tourists in Space

Astronauts activities during Extravehicular Activity (EV)-1. Here Astronaut Robert Stewart during Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) Exercise untethered above the Earth.Date: February 11, 1984
Photo: NASA Images

Many modern-day, adventurous travelers who have “Been there, done that” on Earth have set their sights on space.

Officially, seven private citizens have already been there, each paying from $20 million to $40 million between 2001 and 2009 (before the trips were put on hold) for a ride on a Russian spacecraft and a stay at the International Space Station.

Now numerous private companies — including Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, SpaceX and others — are developing a variety of space tourism programs and out-of-this-world experiences. Some promise earthlings the opportunity to experience weightlessness, while others are selling rocket ship rides and week-long stays at luxury hotels to be built in space.

And while these journeys won’t ever be cheap, carefree, or 100-percent safe, most are already bookable — although details such as departure dates are still to be determined.

Another detail not yet determined: what “regular” people who travel into space should be called. Merriam-Webster defines an astronaut as “a person who travels beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.” And while some professional astronauts are fine sharing that title, others suggest a better term for someone who purchases a rocket ride might be “spaceflight participant” or simply “space tourist.”

After all, notes retired NASA astronaut Anna Lee Fisher, “Every passenger on an airplane is not called a pilot.”

Whatever citizen astronauts are called, Fisher, one of the “original six” women accepted into NASA’s Astronaut Training Program, and many of her peers don’t seem to have an “I got mine, let’s pull up the ladder now,” attitude when it comes to novices visiting space.

“I seriously believe that if more people had the opportunity to go into space and see the Earth from that vantage point they would definitely stop thinking of themselves as being from this country or that country and slowly start feeling like they’re just from this planet,” said Fisher.

And while he wouldn’t have wanted extraneous people on board when he was flying multi-billion-dollar missions, “that’s different than having a spacecraft designed from the get-go for tourists, which I applaud,” said former NASA astronaut Frederick “Rick” Hauck, a veteran of several Space Shuttle missions. In the same way tourism helped grow the airline industry on earth, “I think the space science and space engineering industry could benefit from amortizing the cost of developing new ways to get tourists into space,” said Hauck. “That’s a win-win.”

Jean-Francois Clervoy, a European Space Agency astronaut and veteran of three NASA Space Shuttle missions, is all for space tourism even if, for the foreseeable future, it’s an experience only available to rich people.

“The travelers who have the money, the time, and the courage to try space tourism are and will be great ambassadors,” said Clervoy. “They know people will want to hear about their adventure and that is what explorers and pioneers going first are supposed to do. Bring back the experience.”

Before putting down a deposit and heading to space, though, “There’s one thing people to need understand,” warns former NASA astronaut Sherwood “Woody” Spring, who logged 165 hours in space, 12 of them doing spacewalks, “When you get into orbit, 99 percent of astronauts go through what we call ‘space adaptation syndrome’; some people throw up, some don’t, but you’re probably not going to feel well the first two days.”

It can feel like a mild case of the flu, said Spring, who highly recommends the IMAX space movies to those who just want to see what Earth looks like from space.

But for travelers who have their hearts set on that exclusive space experience, “If that’s what you want, and you have the money to afford it, go for it,” said Spring, “You don’t need my permission.”

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