Science Fiction has long envisioned a future of humans working and living in space. Sometimes this occurs on other planets. At other times it is spaceships and space stations that capture our fantasy. But is that fanciful future beginning to merge with reality, and how do we want that future to look?
Background: The Orbital Reef – A Business Park in Space
Blue Origin, founded by entrepreneur and former CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, has recently announced plans to develop a commercial space station known as “Orbital Reef.” The space station has been termed a business park in space, part of what Bezos has referred to as “building a road to space so our children can build the future.”
Right now, the plan is to allow anyone “the opportunity to establish their own address in orbit,” catering towards “space agencies, high-tech consortia, sovereign nations without space programs, media and travel companies, funded entrepreneurs, and sponsored inventors, and future-minded investors.” We think they mean countries, the rich, and their friends would be able to make use of Space-as-a-Service (SPaaS, perhaps?). But if left to the sci-fi nerds to decide what went on up there, what would we do?
Analysis: Endless opportunity for new research, debate, and play.
1) Settle the Flat Earth debate:We don’t think anyone that calls themselves a Sci-Fi fan will be on the wrong side of the debate, but most of us know someone who has fallen for the ridiculous idea that the world is flat. Those people will need to be “invited” up to the space station to stare out the large Earth-facing windows to stare at the distinctly round shape of the blue planet we live on as it slowly rotates below them.
2) We can learn to play in zero gravity.Okay, so nerds aren’t exactly known for their sports enthusiasm, but we generally like games. New zero-G sports and games will spring up, given our general quest for entertainment. With gravity out of the way, a water fight takes on a whole new dimension. As momentum is conserved, thanks to the free fall of the station around the Earth, flinging handfuls of water at each other from across a room sounds good fun, as long as this is done in an appropriate location, of course. We don’t want anyone drowning in space or causing a fire.
Without the downward force, “bowling” may evolve into a space game, testing players’ skills to send a ball (or themselves) neatly down the center of the walkways without hitting the sides in any direction.
3) We need the Mos Eisley cantina.With space tourism becoming “a thing,” visitors will want to eat and drink on board. Not simple survival rations, but intriguing space-themed meals and drinks that have been designed for consumption in space, but with flare. Cocktails as we pass over Africa? Thank you kindly! Maybe we can get a vote on whether we want something dark and intimate, like any good Sci-Fi bar, or something so clean and white it had to be designed by Apple?
4) Relaxation pods. The Orbital Reef will be modular, with the idea that visiting groups can add or remove modules in line with their needs. It will only be a matter of time before someone wants to make use of inflatable pods, such as those designed by Blue Origins partner, Sierra Nevada Corp, for recreational purposes on the space station. Adding large void spaces would allow users to break out into larger areas, necessary for some people to feel relaxed. Chatting, playing, or simply reading the latest science fiction novel would require the visitors to occasionally push back off walls as they float into them. Multiple pods would quickly add a sense of space to the space station.
5) Spacewalks and Jet Packs. Passionate Science Fiction fans will want to get outside and be as “close” to space as possible. Dreams of daring spacewalks or high-tech jet packs that allow users to nip around in the inky blackness have filled both hard and soft sci-fi.
However, the risks to visitors and their colleagues from such maneuvers are incredibly higher than the simple act of riding a rocket into space and remaining tucked away inside the vehicles for the entire trip.
Any mistakes may result in you spinning rapidly away from safety and into the frigid arms of space or burning up on re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere. Not to worry though, you’ll most likely suffocate before you freeze or burn away. Anyone that comes to try and save you is putting their own life in mortal danger, with a very high probability that they will perish the same way.
Despite this, private spacewalks will go ahead because money will buy anything. The first tourist spacewalk is already booked in 2023, courtesy of the American company Space Adventures, which has secured seats onboard a Russian Soyuz rocket for two customers to visit the International Space Station. However, only one of the tourists will be allowed to do a spacewalk. Will they flip a coin?
Outlook: Times are changing.
If you believe that the idea of space tourism is nonsense, try this: Ask your grandparents about when they were young. Did they think, back then, that they would ever fly in a plane? Such things were prohibitively expensive back then, leading most to believe that a future where everyone flew was unlikely. My grandparents traveled from the UK to Australia (and back) because this was the affordable and sensible option at the time, unlike planes.
These days, ignoring the short-term impact of Covid-19, around 100,000 flights take off and land every day, carrying close to 5 million people.
The same will happen with space flight. Right now, on paper, customers are paying $55 million to take a trip into space. Forbes predicts that this price may fall to $100,000 in a decade and will continue to fall steeply as the number of space tourists climbs.
Eventually, it will be affordable for many as a once-in-a-lifetime trip. A few years after that, it’ll just be something people do on a whim.
Between rock climbing, sky diving, and saving up for a ticket to space, Matt Staples loves to write. Okay, he doesn’t do any of those other things, but he does love to write. His favorite topics are anti-heroes, dystopias, crazy sci-fi, and researching side hustles for his entrepreneurial blog.