Celebrity guinea pigs: Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos going to Space

Regrettably, such self-experimentations by physicians and other biological scientists are known to have led to few deaths too.Regrettably, such self-experimentations by physicians and other biological scientists are known to have led to few deaths too.

By Dr Ajey Lele

In this ongoing phase of Covid-19 epidemic, there has been much discussion about various aspects of vaccine development. Today, there are many people who voluntarily had to offer themselves as a ‘subject’ for testing of Covid-19 vaccines. However, many decades back when medical science was still in the process of evolution, there was much danger associated with the testing of vaccines or new medicines on humans. During that period, in various cases it was observed that the scientists and doctors who were experimenting with vaccines and drug developments actually ended up testing them on themselves to check the efficacy of their research. It is their courage, which needs to be complimented that has eventually led to the discovery of many vaccines. Regrettably, such self-experimentations by physicians and other biological scientists are known to have led to few deaths too.

On Jul 11 and Jul 20, 2021 two major commercial space missions have been planned. The heads of major business houses namely, Virgin Group and Amazon would be going to outer space to demonstrate the credibility oftheircomaniey’s spacecraft. Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic and Mr. Jeff Bezos of Amazon has established companies called Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, respectively for undertaking commercial space travel and now both these celebrity businessmen are going to undertake space adventures.

Virgin Galactic is a British-American spaceflight company started around 2004 with big ambitious plans like having the first flight to space by the end of 2009. But, they soon realised that even suborbital space transportation is all about rocket science, difficult to master quickly. Some of their early attempts were unsuccessful. Their spacecraft, the VSS Enterprise, crashed on October 31, 2014 killing one pilot. For the last six years, the replacement SpaceShipTwo called VSS Unity has been undertaking various tests and now on July 11, 2021 a test flight has been planned, which is a fully crewed mission, including Richard Branson.

Blue Origin was founded by Jeff Bezos during 2000. Barring a few technical hiccups during the initial stage, the company is found progressing in a slow but steady manner towards developing and testing the vehicle for space travel. Post 2015, they are found successfully undertaking various sub-orbital spaceflight and landing tests for their vehicle called New Shepard. Now, the New Shepard mission with Jeff Bezos on-board is slated to launch on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

It is very important to take note of these two missions, where the owners of the companies have actually put their life on stake. The space tourism market for the day is almost non-existing, but is expected to grow fast. The expected clients, during the initial phase could be mostly the celebrities, ultra-rich people and private researchers supported by industry. It is expected that the volume of the market for the near future may not be very big, but the profit margins could be encouraging. If these two missions become successful, then definitely it would help to boost the space tourism market significantly.

In simple terms space tourism could be viewed as an act of travelling into space for entertainment purposes. The launches of VirginGalactic and Blue Origin would be rocket-powered and capable of carrying up to six passengers on a flight. However, their mission profiles are different. Both the flights would be suborbital flights lasting just a few minutes. This flight would provide the experience of weightlessness and allow the passengers to view the contours of the earth.

As per one report (UBS, Switzerland) both suborbital and orbital space travel together, has a potential market value of $3 billion by 2030. While the space industry consultancy Northern Sky Research expects the market only for suborbital tourism to be $2.8 billion by 2028.

Apart from these two gentlemen, another person who is grabbing the headlines is Elon Musk of SpaceX. This company has made big progress in a short period of time. They have successfully undertaken both robotic and human missions to the International Space Station (ISS). For SpaceX, the biggest challenge is going to be designing, developing and undertaking crewed Mars missions. Elon Musk is expected to visit Mars himself.

Space Travel has always been a fantasy for humans. At present, space industry entrepreneurs are investing much towards fulfilling this dream. It is expected that two to three different types of vehicles would be available in the near future to undertake space travel. This could also help in bringing down the cost of the travel. All this would increase the space tourism market significantly. Sir Richard Branson and Mr. Jeff Bezosneeds to be complimented for showing the courage to lead by example for the sake of demonstrating the capabilities of their respective companies in particular and popularising space tourism in general.

(The author is Senior Fellow, MP-IDSA, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. He can be reached at: [email protected])

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