Press Release

House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Hearing charter: “Space Tourism”

By SpaceRef Editor
June 26, 2001
Filed under ,

1. Purpose of the Hearing:

On Tuesday, June 26, 2001 at 2:30 pm in 2318 Rayburn, the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics will hold a hearing on Space Tourism. The hearing will review the issues and
opportunities for flying non-professional astronauts in space, the appropriate government role for supporting the nascent space tourism industry, use of the Space Shuttle and Space
Station for tourism, safety and training criteria for space tourists, and the potential commercial market for space tourism. The hearing will consist of the following witnesses.

Mr. Dennis Tito, Space Tourist, will address the following questions in his testimony: 1) What were your experiences preparing for the mission and overall observations onboard the
Space Station as a visitor? 2) What do you believe is the benefit of space travel and its value to society? 3) What are your observations of the Russian space program and opportunities
for an improved partnership, particularly on the Space Station?

Mr. Mike Hawes, Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Station, NASA, will address the following questions in his testimony: 1) What is NASA’s position regarding
the flight of non-professional crew and tourists on-board the Shuttle and Space Station? 2) What safety/training and policy issues must be addressed for the flight of
non-professional crew and space tourists? 3) What agreements or assurances has NASA made with Russia or other partners regarding non-professional crew and space
tourists on the Space Station?  

Dr. Buzz Aldrin, President, Starcraft Enterprises and Founder of the ShareSpace Foundation, will address the following questions in his testimony: 1) What types of activities
do you believe will be enabled or enhanced as a result of space tourism? 2) What do you believe are the major hurdles which must be overcome before the space tourism business will be
self-sustaining? 3) What role should the federal government play in promoting space tourism?

Mr. Rick Tumlinson, President, Space Frontier Foundation, will address the following questions in his testimony: 1) What role should the government play in promoting space
tourism? 2) What legal, liability, and policy issues must be addressed for space tourism to move forward? 3) What recommendations do you have for a Non-Government Organization
(NGO) in managing Space Station resources, specifically in order to balance scientific research with commercial development?

2. Background

As a result of the recent flight of millionaire Dennis Tito to the Space Station, public interest in human spaceflight and space tourism has increased dramatically. For many space
enthusiasts and thrill-seekers, a trip to space may no longer be a dream, but could become a reality in the near-future.

Broadly defined, space tourism refers to the concept of paying customers travelling into space. Although Dennis Tito is the first to personally pay for his flight to space and is,
therefore, the first space tourist, many other “non-professional” astronauts have flown into space, typically, as part of a specific mission i.e. as a mission or payload specialist with very
specific responsibilities.

Some initial market studies and surveys indicate that there may be a significant potential market for space travel and tourism — potentially a multi-billion dollar per year market.[1] 
Although these studies are encouraging, many space tourism advocates readily admit that more detailed and reliable market research must be done to more accurately predict the market
for space tourism. Nonetheless, many believe that the space tourism industry could become a major economic force in the space industry with significant side-benefits to government
space programs. Specifically, a strong and viable space tourism industry could ultimately fund the development of low-cost, reliable space tranportation vehicles and advanced technology
that could be used for human exploration missions beyond the Earth. However, the space travel and tourism industry must first address several major obstacles and uncertainties. Many
policy, legal, technical, and business issues need to be addressed.

3. Dennis Tito’s Flight

Mr. Dennis Tito became the first paying space tourist in history. Mr. Tito’s estimated $20 million 6-day flight followed a contentious debate between NASA and Russia regarding the
flight. NASA objected to Mr. Tito’s flight on the following grounds: 1) he was not fully trained, and therefore, represented a safety risk; 2) he would require “babysitting” by the other
astronauts to ensure he would not do anything that would possibly endanger the lives of the crew or harm the Space Station; and 3) the tempo of operations during the assembly phase of
the Space Station was not the appropriate time to bring tourists on-board. Russia, on the other hand, insisted that it had the right under the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) to
choose whatever crew it desired, so long as the crew was properly trained. More to the point, Russia wanted Mr. Tito’s money. [2]

The crew, including Dennis Tito, visited the International Space Station (ISS) as part of a Soyuz taxi crew to deliver the new Soyuz TM-32 spacecraft and return to Earth in the older
Soyuz TM-31. Soyuz spacecraft serve as “lifeboats” for the ISS crew, and must be replaced every 6 months. The Soyuz taxi crew spent a week on ISS with the ISS “Expedition 2” crew.
The Expedition 2 crew has been on the station since March and is scheduled to be replaced by a new space station crew in early August.

Originally, Mr. Tito was to fly to Russia’s Mir space station, but after Russia decided to deorbit Mir, Russia announced its intention to send Mr. Tito to ISS instead. The United States,
Europe, Japan, and Canada insisted that he was not sufficiently trained and that the pace of activity on ISS is too intense for the crew to be distracted by having a nonprofessional
astronaut aboard. Russia asserted that he was adequately trained and would not interfere with operations. NASA Administrator Goldin testified on May 2 that NASA would bill Russia
if it determined that the agency incurred any additional costs because of Tito’s flight.  NASA has yet to indicate whether any such costs were actually incurred or whether it will be
sending Russia a bill.

4. Major Barriers to Space Tourism

Appropriate Use of Government Assets

A key policy issue is what role the federal government should play, if any, in supporting and promoting the space tourism industry. Specifically, should the Space Shuttle and Space
Station which were built and paid for by the taxpayer be used as a tourist destination for wealthy individuals? Following intense and extensive consultations amongst all Space Station
partners, Dennis Tito was allowed to fly to the Space Station. The situation brought about by the Tito flight highlighted that the existing guidelines for crew selection were inadequate.
The Space Station Multilateral Crew Operations Panel (MCOP) is working to define criteria for selection, training, assignment, and certification of future crew. NASA is expected to
present these guidelines later this summer. Meanwhile, other private citizens, such as movie director James Cameron, are rumored to be interested in flying into space.

Cheap Commercial Reusable Launch Vehicles (RLVs)

The single greatest technical barrier to the development of a viable space tourism industry is that commercial Reusable Launch Vehicles (RLVs) to transport space tourists to orbit do not
yet exist. Today, the Space Shuttle and Russia’s Soyuz rocket are the only two systems available to take humans into space. Although many small entrepreneurial start-up space firms
are trying to develop low cost RLVs, their progress has been stagnant due to difficulties in securing adequate financial backing. NASA’s X-33 sub-orbital demonstration vehicle was
expected to serve as a prototype for a commercial RLV. However, because of technical problems with the design and a lack of clear market demand, the concept was shelved by NASA. NASA’s Space Launch Initiative is aimed at dramatically reducing the cost of space transportation and increasing the reliability of future space transportation systems. While this
program was just recently started, technologies developed under SLI may enable man-rated commercial RLVs to be developed which could be used to fly tourists into space. Ultimately,
a self-sustaining space tourism industry will not be realized until the transportation problem is solved. For more information, see the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee hearing on the
Space Launch Initiative on June 20, 2001.

No Supply and Uncertain Demand

The price passengers would be willing to pay to fly to space is unclear. To date, only a few consumer market studies have been conducted to assess the general public’s interest in space
tourism. Although these studies indicate that the market for space tourism could be in the billions of dollars per year, it has yet to materialize. This is likely due to the “Catch-22”
situation in which many commercial space ventures have found themselves. In essence, the industry’s “supply” elements — low-cost, reliable, human-rated space transportation and the
fincnial backing for the technology — will not materialize until its “demand” — a clear market — becomes evident. With the drivers of economic activity at odds, the public space travel
industry remains inert.[3] The key questions are: how does an industry grow in the face of such uncertainty? What role, if any, should the government play in supporting and nurturing
a space tourism industry?

Buzz Aldrin has started a venture called “ShareSpace” which proposes to use a lottery system to raise the capital necessary to jump start the space tourism industry. For example, if a
lottery ticket for a flight into space cost $50 and 2 million people took advantage of the opportunity and bought a ticket, $100 million could be raised for a flight. Clearly, other issues
would need to be resolved regarding the physical and psychological suitability of the participants and the winner.

Should NASA Revive the Citizens-in-Space Program?

Some advocates for space tourism believe NASA should revisit the idea of flying public citizens on the space shuttle. A citizen-in-space program to fly journalists, poets, and others on
the Shuttle was cancelled when the Challenger accident occurred in 1986 killing the 7 person crew including a teacher, Christa McAuliffe. Although advocates realize that the space
business is risky, they feel that the benefits outweigh the risks. Dennis Tito has proposed that one seat on each shuttle should be made available for private citizens.

Legal and Regulatory Issues

Existing national and international laws provide only a rudimentary framework for commercial activities in space and on celestial bodies. It is possible to examine how existing laws will
be applied to activities such as mining, manufacturing, and construction in space. However, one can also conclude that private settlement of outer space and celestial bodies is legal under
existing law. Nonetheless, the absence of law regarding certain key subjects such as property rights, mining, salvage, liability, and dispute resolution is a disincentive to private space
activities. Individuals, companies, and investors are unsure of their rights and have no assurance that their efforts and investments will be legally protected.[4]

According to the 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects, commonly referred to as the “Liability Convention,” the nation from whose territory
an object is launched from is absolutely liable for any damage caused by that object on the surface of the Earth. For example, the U.S. government would be liable for any damage caused
by an object returning from space, even if it was a wholly commercial venture, if it was launched from U.S. territory.

There are many legal and liability issues which must be addressed if private citizens begin to fly into space. For example, is a space tourist liable for any damage while on-board the Space
Station or other platforms? As a condition of Dennis Tito’s flight, NASA required the Russian Space Agency to agree to compensate the other Space Station partners for any damage to
their equipment resulting from Mr. Tito’s activity. The agreement was not tested, however, because no damage from Mr. Tito’s flight has been reported.

Some examples of other legal and liability issues include whether the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will require a license for activities in space and on any potential commercial
space stations in a manner similar to its regulation of activities on aircraft. Currently, the FAA only has the legal authority to license commercial launches, but FAA may try to expand
its authority to activities performed in space as well. In other areas, it is unclear what laws govern liability for personal injury and the procedures for dispute resolution and enforcement
of criminal activity.

Clearly, the public’s interest and enthusiasm for space tourism has increased dramatically because of Dennis Tito’s flight. Space tourism advocates have held several conferences and
seminars to increase awareness and work through many of the issues surrounding this potential new industry. Although studies on space tourism show great economic promise, many
issues need to be resolved before it can be fully realized.

5. Questions

  • What is the benefit and value to society of space tourism?
  • How big is the space tourism market estimated to be?
  • What are the major barriers to the development of a space tourism market?
  • Should government assets such as the Space Station and Space Shuttle be used for essentially private sector activities?
  • Should the government sponsor space tourists as part of a civilian-in-space program?
  • Will a space tourism market develop in the absence of government support?
  • What policy, legal and liability issues must be addressed to enable the space tourism industry to develop?
  • Who is liable for damages caused by a space tourist on-board the Space Station or Space Shuttle?
  • Can space tourists and scientific research both be conducted satisfactorily on the Space Station?

    [1] A joint NASA/Space Transportation Association study in 1997 predicted space tourism to be a $10-$20 billion industry within several decades. In 1994 the Japanese Rocket Society conducted a market survey to
    estimate the interest in commercial space flight and found that “world demand for orbital tourism services could reach a level of more than $12 billion per year (in 1994 dollars).”

    [2] IB93017 “Space Stations,” Marcia Smith, Congressional Research Service

    [3] “When a Ticket to Ride?,” Amy Paige Snyder, Ad Astra,  May-June 2001, p. 21

    [4] “The Legal Regime for Private Activities in Outer Space,” Wayne White, Published by CATO Institute

  • SpaceRef staff editor.