Travel technology is taking one small leap for mankind in this moon walk anniversary year. It is, after all, forty years this July 20 that the Armstrong and Aldrin set down on the moon. It is also the year that the private suborbital space tourism industry, highlighted by start-ups like Virgin Galactic, really ramps up.
Space tourism is gathering momentum for a liftoff despite the economy. Part of the reason is that the egos behind this private space race are bigger than our recessionary woes. But much of the reason is that the concept of vacationing in outer space remains permanently popular.
A hard core of investors is still jazzed about space travel. Entrepreneurs like Richard Branson not only believe that the brand is the thing, but that there is a market for suborbital tourism. There already are any number of well-heeled, would-be rocketeers who have plunked down multimillion dollar deposits to reserve seats on those first commercial space flights.
The first such flight could come as early as 2011. So while the blue sky world of commercial aviation is scaling back, the black sky aviation world is scaling up. I wonder, however, if one of these suborbital ventures will be able to create a sustainable business model. Sure, I think the market will inevitably pick winners in this budding industry, which is as it should be. Some planes will not fit the needs of market, such as was the case with the Concorde. For supersonic fans, the Concorde is the lost dream. It created much passion, just as suborbital space planes are doing now. What everyone would love to see is a practical vision that matches up with the passion of those lining up to see the moon from the edge of space.
Travel technology isn’t only about comfort and efficiency. It’s also about discovery. Humans absolutely should be investing in technology that pushes the envelope of flight. Our horizons need not be limited by our all-too-pedestrian visits to today’s buses in the sky. I recall a time when flight was rare and inspiring. Suborbital travel can make it so again.
Airline Futurist • Miami • www.us.amadeus.com