‘Space travel is not that risky’

Eric Anderson, president and CEO of Space Adventures, talks to Kim Thomson about new innovations in the industry
Anderson … optimistic

TTN: What did it take to organise the first tourist flight to the international space station?
Eric Anderson: There have actually been two flights, Dynasty was the first one.

Mark Shan from South Africa was the second one. They were both, a lot of work. Like setting up agreements and structures within the 16 members nation international space station partnership is tedious to say the least… in the early days NASA was not supportive to the tourism of space station. But Russia has been very supportive primarily because they saw the potential for big business and they are always looking for ways to subsidise their space programme but, since then, it’s become a lot easier. We now have two more clients who have signed contracts for the international space station and they’ll be flying in the next year and a half.

As the world famous tourism company, how do you see the future of the industry?
Over the next ten years, the key development will be suborbital. Suborbital flights are where a tourist will spend around $20 million and go into space and circle the earth for ten days. Suborbital means over a 100km and back down. You’re in space for a few minutes; you see the earth and feel weightless. But this costs around $100,000. It is still a lot expensive within the realm of a lot of people. This is for millionaires who can spend a few million dollars.
People today spend a lot of money on luxury travel, if they can spend around $100,000 to go around the world in a Concord, space travel is definitely do-able and I see in the next ten years, a lot of people having that experience, which will be a watershed change because in the last 42 years of space flight – the first being in 1962 – there have been only 432 people who have gone into space. So it’s a small exclusive set of people. We need thousands of people to fly – people who can come back and share their experience so that other’s can do it.

Do you foresee the day space travel being an everyday affair?
I do foresee that it will be an everyday affair maybe 50 years from now, when flights that cost $100,000 will be around $10,000 or $5,000 and when the kind of vehicle that we use for suborbital tourism develops further – right now, they just go up and down and land at the same airport you took off from. But eventually, these are the types of vehicle that will take us from Dubai to New York in 30 minutes. Because of these revolutionary transportation that is something 50 years from now that can be absolutely being an everyday thing.

What are the perils involved in such a venture?
Space travel can be perceived as quiet risky, in actual facts the space flight that we sell are not risky. The Russian rocket that we use is the most flown rocket of all time; it’s flown over 1,000 times, actually almost 2,000 times, in both manned and unmanned missions. And if they’ve not had a fatal accident in 32 years, so, it’s actually not that risky. It probably is far more risky to climb down Everest. The perception is that space travel can be risky and one of our biggest challenge lies in explaining to people, convincing them otherwise, showing them statistics and explaining how the technology works, and making them feel comfortable – you have to reassure them the safety.

What are the health hazards and precautions that you take to make ensure that everything is safe?
Everybody on the flight is well trained. For a suborbital, they spend about three days training in the environment, where they’ll do simulators and are medically checked out. So it’s actually kind of fun. It takes about three days of training and on the fourth day you fly. It’s like a weekend plus a couple of days’ getaway. However, for the orbital flights, the $20 million flight, it requires two months of training.
If they are found medically unfit or if they have some serious medical problem or even if they are not willing to spend the time to prepare themselves so that they can fly and be educated and safe, they can’t go.

As a co-founder of Space Adventures, where do you plan to take the company in the next five years?
Into sub-orbital flights, and being able to provide thousands of people with the opportunity to fly in space. We’ve only has a few hundred flights in the last 40 years. Basically, just expanding. We are at a stage now like the computer industry was in the beginning, in the 70s. People told Bill Gates, ‘Why would anybody need a computer in their home?’ The chairman of the board of IBM, Thomas Watson in 1950, said, ‘I see a world market for maybe five computers.’ Now everybody has a computer. We are entering a phase we like to call personal spaceflight, where people are changing their attitudes from the age old belief that knows ‘only astronauts can go to space’. They are starting to believe that now they can go. If you ask the teenagers on the street, if they think that they can be able to go to space in their lifetime, many of them will say yes. So it’s not only a technology or business change, it’s an attitudinal change in the society. This is something that was intended for people to be able to do it as long as you’re in reasonable health. There is no reason why anyone can’t go.