Space tourism may be taking off, but critics are not taken with its goals

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A handful of billionaire-backed companies are proving that space tourism could be part of our future, but some critics say these resources would be better directed towards solving the problems we face on Earth today.

“We need some of the greatest brains and minds in the world determined to try to fix this planet, not to try to find the next place to go to live,” as Prince William said this week, summing up a lesser attitude. What rave about critics watching the tourism-driven space race of our time unfold.

Since the summer, space tourism companies have taken passengers on brief trips above Earth and have attracted a lot of attention for doing so, in part because of the people they took with them.

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Billionaire Jeff Bezos went to space in July, along with three other passengers, aboard a Blue Origin spacecraft. The company sent four more people to space last Wednesday – including William Shatner, best known for playing Star TrekCaptain James Kirk.

“What you have given me is the most profound experience,” Shatner told Bezos after his trip to space.

And yet, for all the coverage Bezos received, he wasn’t even the first billionaire to go to space this year – Richard Branson arrived first, on a Virgin Galactic flight that carried six passengers, nine days before. its competitors Blue Origin.

“The whole thing was just magic,” Branson said after the flight.

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity is seen descending after reaching the edge of space on July 11, 2011. (Joe Skipper / Reuters)

What about the planet?

But not everyone applauds. Ryan Katz-Rosene, associate professor in the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa, said these recent space tourism efforts and the competition to claim their achievements are “completely deaf to the realities of sustainability challenges. That the planet is facing. .

“I don’t think we should be spending so much focus, effort, attention and money on private space travel,” he said.

Yet Philip Metzger, a planetary physicist at the University of Central Florida, says this type of space tourism could end up helping to solve problems at home. Astronauts and others often say that the experience of seeing Earth from above has left them with a renewed appreciation for environmentalism.

Metzger predicts that having more people view Earth from above will result in a greater mobilization of “resources and talents to protect the Earth.”

WATCH | When Shatner really went to space:

The science behind William Shatner’s space travel

CBC Quirks and Quarks host Bob McDonald talks to Andrew Chang about what William Shatner went through on his brief trip to space. 2:32

Possible advantages

Chris Hadfield, the retired Canadian astronaut, sees where Prince William and like-minded critics are going – acknowledging that there is some justification for their concerns about issues on Earth.

But he said the push to explore is what inspires the discovery of new ideas and new technologies – including some of the satellite tools we now use to measure and observe parts of our planet and the problems it faces.

“This technology does not emerge instantly,” Hadfield said. “You have to inspire people, they have to develop it.”

As for the future of a larger world of space travel, Hadfield said “it opens up so many opportunities and I think this is the part that is worth focusing on.”

Chris Hadfield is shown after landing on Earth, via a Soyuz space capsule, in central Kazakhstan in May 2013. (Mikhail Metzel / Reuters)


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