If there’s something I’d trade everything for, it’s a trip into Space. From the age of 11 I was tracking the ISS, and my interest grew from there. We’re told by the media every year that this is just around the corner. Unfortuantely I believe it’s at least 30 years away.
The entire charge is being led by Elon Musk
There is currently only one company that has the current technology and cash to even progress in this field and that’s SpaceX. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is years behind, and for whatever reason isn’t getting the funding and attention it needs, from the richest man in the world, to catch up, or even compete.
Then we look at governments. The USA and NASA currently don’t own a system or vehicle to get into low-earth orbit, let alone space. Let that sink in, the one-time leader has no way of its own to send astronauts into space. It actually currently pays the Russians to send Americans to the ISS.
After the 1970s Nasa concentrated its efforts on the Space Shuttle. The Shuttle was insanely expensive and built for low-earth orbit transit. Scrapping the Shuttle was the right step, the USA needed a program to get it back into the job of planetary exploration, and a space-plane is just a terrible choice for that.
Public interest is at an all-time low
Who cares? As a futurist, there’s nothing I want more. For many readers of this article it will be the same. But the public just are not interested. With the development of the smart-phone taking concentration away from exploration. In 1969 if Kennedy had told the population we wouldn’t go back to the moon for decades, they wouldn’t believe it. But if he told them we’d have all of the world’s knowledge in our pocket, with the ability to talk to anyone in the world instantly for free. They’d have thought he was crazy. Society has changed.
NASA’s budget for 2018 is $19 Billion whilst the Department of Defense for 2018 is $500+ Billion. When we consider that space exploration is a tiny part of Nasa’s work, with earth sciences, climate studies and technologies to name a few, it’s almost impossible for the agency to do anything at all. To put this all into context, a single mission to mars would cost approximately $230 Billion.
Society begins developing inwards
This is possibly the biggest threat to space travel and tourism. If we see a fundamental shift in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, where society starts creating near to indistinguishable models, the interest to explore away from our planet could become zero, with exploration left to a few enthusiasts.
This is seen as the Trancension Hypothosis where intelligent species realise that building virtual worlds or domains to live/trancend to gives much better reward at much less cost and effort. This is just one theory in the answer to the Fermi Paradox
It’s astronomically difficult
Creating a reusable rocket or reusable stages of rockets is ridiculously hard, let alone creating the same for trips back from planetary missions. At separation the first stage is travelling at 6000 – 8000 km/h away from earth. It has to orientate itself, slow down enough to fall back to earth, then understand how to land on a 20-metre diameter platform only miles where it just came from.
Imagine the complexity of adding more speed, more distance, let alone a human component to the payload stage. This small example is still assuming close proximity to Earth, when we start talking about The Moon, Mars and other planets, it gets exponentially harder that for some isn’t even comprehensible right now.
If there’s a prediction I want to be wrong about, it’s this one. To have sub-orbital space flight for travelling between countries, or to explore much further and become a multi-planetary species is something I’ve been dying to see for 20 years. But we need a lot more budget, a lot more talent and a lot more time to make it reality.