What will the future of private space travel look like?

In the past, national space agencies  have built and launched the craft that  carried people into space. Recently,  we saw a private company, Space X,  launch American astronauts to the  International Space Station (ISS) for  the first time, ushering in a new era of  private space travel

HOW BIG A CHANGE IS THIS IN THE WAY WE  WILL EXPLORE SPACE?

We're starting a whole new chapter  in humanity's quest to move off this  planet, to actually start things we've  seen in science fiction. The SpaceX  launch, although it was still bought by  government funds, is a huge change.  It's something I've been waiting for all  my career. Before, only governments  had the kind of money, could take the  liability, and actually had permission to  go into space and explore this frontier.  Now we've got a commercial company  that has shown it can take an astronaut  up to space into low Earth orbit.

WHAT KIND OF POSSIBILITIES DOES THIS  OPEN UP?

There are a couple of private space  station companies out there [Axiom  Space and Bigelow Aerospace, who are  both working on modules for the ISS]  but until now you had no way to get there, because you would have had to  get a government to sell you a seat. But  the governments have other priorities  and seats are precious. 

Now, SpaceX  could sell you a trip to your private  space station. And if all these countries  are going to the Moon, there are a  number of companies that are interested  in providing communications around  the Moon, providing resources and  fuel and water and power. There are all  kinds of economic possibilities in the  next couple of decades that are now  empowered. This is very exciting; this  is a milestone that we will look back on  and say, "This is when it started; this is  when it really took off."

HOW DO YOU SEE PRIVATE SPACE TRAVEL  OPENING UP THE EXPLORATION OF THE  SOLAR SYSTEM?

At the beginning of the internet, you  would never ever think of what a role  it plays in our entire world right now.  This is what I believe space is going to  be like. So how do you start that? Well,  this is where governments absolutely  do work. It was NASA putting so much  money into SpaceX that allowed it to have the capability to take humans into space. Now, SpaceX can amortise  that investment to give anyone a ride,  if they pay the price.

And that's the  difference, the government would  never have that capability, they're not going to become an operational activity. But SpaceX is a private company that has motivations to do private things in space.  In Luxembourg, we looked at the  places you could make money in  space. Well, it's very expensive to  take things from the Earth and use  them in space. So, if you assume that  governments are going to the Moon,  everything you want for civilisation a country, let's say you're a Middle  Eastern country with a lot of money,  in a few years you could automatically  go into the space age by just buying a  private space station and buying tickets  to get there from SpaceX. Now you're  a country that went from no human  spaceflight to your own space station.  Because you can buy it.

Space x

"At Moon bases,  you're going  to be doing  science, but  you'll also want  to have a beer  at night, or  have a pizza"

Space x

SPACEX HAS SOME PRETIY WILD PLANS,  INCLUDING A STARSHIP DESIGN WHICH THE  COMPANY IS REPORTED TO BE PRIORITISING  IN ORDER TO CARRY UP TO 100 PEOPLE  TO THE MOON OR MARS. HOW SERIOUSLY  SHOULD WE BE TAKING THESE PROPOSALS?

If you look at Star Wars movies and you look at Star Trek, whatever these  inventive writers envision for the  future, it gives the real engineers  something to aim for - and some of it  comes true. So, in a way, Elon Musk  [SpaceX's CEO] is setting a vision, and  engineers, like myself, all want to do  exciting things. And so whether 100  people are going to be going to Mars  anytime soon, that may or may not  happen. But there are a lot of engineers  and a lot of people who want to  dedicate their lives to doing something  exciting, that is different and that has  never been done before. And so he  energises amazing people who have  already shown the amazing things  they're able to do in space and he's got  their creativity working.

LAUNCHERS, EITHER FOR HUMANS OR  SMALLER ROBOTIC CRAFT?

Every day I read a number of clippings  to try to stay current and I'll tell  you, there's a new launcher system  proposed every week.  There are launcher systems all over  the world in many, many countries,  mostly those are to put things in low  Earth orbit. The countries that can  launch people are China, Russia and  the US. India is working towards that  capability. In the commercial role, only  SpaceX has launched people into orbit,  in addition there are only a few other  US companies working to develop that  capability: Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada,  and Boeing. It's only a handful, but  you wouldn't expect there to be a lot  [of companies] until there's a lot going  on and then people will rush to the  marketplace. Think about it, if you're a country, let's say you're a Middle  Eastern country with a lot of money,  in a few years you could automatically  go into the space age by just buying a  private space station and buying tickets  to get there from SpaceX. Now you're  a country that went from no human  spaceflight to your own space station.  Because you can buy it.

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GARY MARTIN Gary Martin is the vice president far North American operations at the International Space University. He was formerly a senior advisor to the Luxembourg Space Agency, and director of  partnerships at NASA's Ames Research Center.  Interviewed by Dr Stuart Clark

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