The British Interplanetary Society is presenting “The Contested Future of Space Tourism,” a lecture by Mark Johnson, a graduate student in Science and Technology Studies at the University of York.
Unfortunately, the program misrepresents what citizen space exploration (or “space tourism”) is about. The announcement states:
“Space tourism”, “personal spaceflight” and “citizen space exploration” have also been suggested as alternative rubrics, each of which evokes a different form of this future. Irrespective of terminology, this trend denotes space travel for recreational or leisure purposes, rather than scientific, exploratory, communication or military purposes.
According to the World Tourism Organization, tourism is “traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes [emphasis added].”
If tourism were limited to leisure and recreation, business tourism would be an oxymoron, rather than a lucrative industry.
Unfortunately, some people have taken to using “space tourism” in a much more restrictive sense, to indicate what they believe to be frivolous activities, in contrast to “real” exploration. That’s why we strongly prefer the term “citizen space exploration.”
Citizen space exploration refers to any space exploration that is undertaken by private citizens, rather than government employees or their agents. Some citizen space exploration may be undertaken for recreation or leisure purposes, but by no means all.
Citizen space explorers such as Richard Garriott and Greg Olsen have performed scientific experiments aboard the International Space Station and have been honored by the Explorers Club. Anousheh Ansari blogged from ISS. To say their expeditions were not for scientific, exploratory, or communication purposes is clearly wrong.
Citizens in Space exists to promote citizen science in space. We were the first customer to sign up for flights on the XCOR Lynx spacecraft. We are collaborating with both citizen scientists and professional researchers to fly a variety of experiments. We have already been involved in the ground-based testing of biomedical devices which may be used by future space travelers.
We are hardly alone. The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference is attended by hundreds of scientists and engineers who are planning similar experiments. We expect that interest in suborbital experiments will grow in the future.
If the British Interplanetary Society wants to “contest” the future of citizen space exploration, it should do so on the basis of fact, not misinformation or misunderstanding.