Space tourism hasn’t turned-out to be the boom business, no pun intended, that it was once promised to be.
Bigelow Aerospace laid-off its inflatable space habitat employees, a step reluctantly taken because the company felt that its BA-330, expected to launch in ready in 2014-2015, would be years ahead of commercial crew launchers actually getting a crew into low-Earth orbit. In taking this action, Bigelow gave a big thumbs-down to claims by some that they will be launching people into orbit commercially, and at less cost than Soyuz, in just a few years, never mind their claims of a fully re-usable rocket.
- “It’s tough. We’ve seen slower progress than a lot of people would have liked.” – Erika Wagner of the X Prize Foundation
Now comes the sad news that Alan Walton, a venture capitalist and one of the first 100 to sign-up for a ride on Virgin Galactic’s space line, requested, and was granted, the return of his deposit of $200,000, which he made on his 75th Birthday, because he didn’t feel, given the progress of Virgin Galactic, that space tourism rides will occur anytime soon. He joins about 10 other people who have likewise dropped-out.
Much like the promises in the mid-1990’s of a booming commercial satellite launch market, promises of space tourism for the rest of us, which started with the release of the Futron 2002 space tourism study and reached a crescendo in 2004 when SpaceShipOne became the first privately financed, crewed spacecraft to trek into space, turned-out to be over-hyped. Scaled Composites won the $10 million Ansari X Prize on Oct. 4, 2004 for commercially launching twice in two weeks. Those flights were hailed by New Space Otaku (おたく), in contrast to NASA’s seemingly slow progress in returning the Shuttle to orbit after the Columbia disaster, as a leap toward opening the final frontier to civilians. Since Scaled Composite’s 2004 launches, there has been little but a deafening silence.
Walter’s has moved-on to a new adventure; he is investing in J. Craig Venter’s quest to create artificial life.