Will We Take Vacation in Spaces?
When Mike Kelly first set out to build his own private space-ferry service, he figured his bread-and-butter business would be lofting satellites into high-Earth orbit. Now he thinks he may have figured wrong. "People were always asking me when they could go," says Kelly, who runs Kelly Space & Technology out of San Bernardino, California. "I realized that real market is in space tourism."
According to preliminary market surveys, there are 10,000 would be space tourists willing to spend $1 million each to visit the final frontier. Space Adventure in Arlington, Virginia, has taken more than 130 deposits for a two-hour, $98,000 space tour tentatively (and somewhat dubiously) set to occur by 2005. Gene Meyers of the Space Island Group says: "Space is the next exotic vacation spot."
This may all sound great, but there are a few hurdles. Putting a simple satellite into orbit -with no oxygen, life support or return trip necessary-already costs an astronomical $22,000/kg. And that doesn't include the cost of insuring rich and possibly litigious passenger. John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists acerbically suggests that the entire group of entrepreneurs trying to corner the space-tourism market have between them "just enough money to blow up one rocket." The U.S. space agency has plenty of money but zero interest in making space less expensive for the little guys. So the little guys are racing to do what the government has failed to do: design a reusable launch system that's inexpensive, safe and reliable. Kelly Space's prototype looks like a plane that has sprouted rocket engines. Rotary Rocket in Redwood City, California, has a booster with rotors make a helicopter-style return to Earth; Kistler Aerospace in Kirkland, Washington, is piecing together its versions from old Soviet engines, shuttle-style thermal protection tiles and an elaborate parachute system. The first pa