There are a lot of things I’m waiting for in the long quest to turn humanity into a spacefaring civilization. I made a list over four years ago of four things I’m waiting for, and so far we’ve accomplished one. One is a few years away from being done, one is more than a decade away, and the other, who knows if it will be accomplished. But I was thinking about all of this the other day, and I wondered what will we likely accomplish in the next decade. This is what I came up with.
flights will probably be finished.
For years, the
idea of suborbital tourist flights excited me and I truly thought that – even
though the common folk could never afford them – they would excite the public
about space. But it took so long for
these companies to get flying, that I figure the industry is DOA. People will still fly, but instead of the
expected hundreds of people a year, it will probably only be dozens. And the next accident – especially if
passengers die – will ground the entire industry. There will still be suborbital flights for
experiments, and maybe once a blue moon they’ll brave the paperwork to have a
technician along with the experiments, but I expect by 2033 suborbital tourism
will be in the history books.
One factor against
suborbital tourism will be orbital tourism.
Yes, orbital tourism will be 1,000X as expensive as suborbital tourism,
but you’ll get a 10,000X greater experience.
And the best place to go for orbital tourism will be a private space
station. Now, the ISS is great, but it’s
not a hotel. It’s a stinky laboratory
filled with people doing various experiments.
To really get your space tourism money’s worth, you’d want a purpose-built
hotel with large windows to view the Earth and space, and sound-proof cabins to
join the 200-mile-high club.
But private space
stations won’t just be hotels. Some
could be other laboratories, or even new businesses. I can easily imagine robotic tugs bringing
broken satellites to a space station where astronauts fix and upgrade them
before returning them to service.
Landing on the
The biggest thing
that will likely happen in the next decade will be humans returning to the
moon. By 2033 there may only be two or
three landings, but they might be from two different programs, which will be
fantastic. And hopefully these won’t
just be flags and footprints missions, but ones that start building a permanent
presence on the moon.
Unlike what seems
to be a majority of space people, I’m not that interested in human exploration
of Mars. Yes, we’ll do it someday, but
unlikely in my lifetime. The main
reason, is that I’ve long maintained that while we are 100X better prepared to
go to the moon now than we were in the 1960’s, going to Mars is 200X more
complicated than going to the moon. Any
rush to get a crewed mission to Mars in the next decade will, in my humble
opinion, be doomed to fail. In fact, a
successful, crewed mission to Mars by 2043 is probably overly optimistic.