MONTE CARLO — I always side with the skeptics when the subject of space tourism comes up. Although the prospect of spending a few days in weightlessness does appeal to a portly chap like myself.
One man, though, is convinced that travellers will soon boldly go where no tourist has gone before. He’s French astronaut Jean-François Clervoy and he confidently tells me: “Within the next two decades, people will be regularly going to space on their vacations.”
Amazing, considering it was only 50 years ago this year that Neil Armstrong became the first human to step foot on the moon.
I met up with Clervoy at an airline industry conference in this playground of the rich and famous and the man who has been to space three times — 1994 (on the U.S. Space Shuttle), and 1997 and 1999 (on Russian missions) — informs me “space hotels are already being developed.”
Guess the “star” rating system will take on a whole new meaning at space hotels.
The main reason the French astronaut is convinced space tourism will take off sooner than later is because so much private money is being poured into the initiative by billionaires like Tesla’s Elon Musk (Gen X), Virgin Atlantic’s Richard Branson (Virgin Galatica) and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin).
“With this kind of financial injection, we will reach our goal of space tourism much faster,” says Clervoy, who now works for Air Zero G, a French aerospace company.
“The private money is not just going to speed up orbital travel but it will quicken sub-orbital travel as well,” says the decorated astronaut, who predicts that soon I will be travelling between Toronto and Shanghai in just 39 minutes instead of 15 hours.
“Sub-orbital travel is very far along in its development and over the next decade regular flights will be operational.”
Clervoy admits there are a few obstacles in the way to space tourism, though.
“Obviously, the cost is enormous,” says Clervoy, who points out that several billionaires have already forked out between $20 million and $30 million (U.S.) each for the thrill of spending just a few minutes in space.
Then there’s the impact space travel has on the human body that has to be considered.
“All astronauts suffer from space travel. It affects the heart, spine, inner ear, bones and vision,” says Clervoy.
Oh, did we mention what effects radiation has on humans — better bring some extra sunscreen.
Finding the highly trained crews needed to carry space tourists into orbit is another major hurdle.
“Most of an astronaut’s time is spent training and the number of crew needed for regular space travel will be very high. And the risk factor will have to be reduced to zero before regulators ever permit large-scale space tourism.”
But how about wise old men like me who probably won’t be around in 20 years to enjoy a vacation in space?
“Oh, you can feel the thrill of weightlessness right now, thanks to Air Zero G,” smiles Clervoy the salesman.
Scientists apparently conduct regular experiments on Air Zero G’s specially outfitted Airbus A300-G, which creates a weightlessness environment when pilots flit the plane vertically for a short period.
“Our highly trained crew flies the aircraft at a 50-degree angle for about 22 seconds and that creates a hyper-gravity environment which allows scientists to work on their experiments in total weightlessness.
It’s not just scientists who hire Air Zero G. Recently, Hollywood came calling. “We shot scenes for the latest Mission Impossible movie on our plane — it was fun seeing Tom Cruise and his film crew float around the Airbus,” laughs Clervoy.
A commercial with Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt — he raced Clervoy to the finish line in the ad — was also filmed on the plane. But the oddest request was from a large German company, which held a “disco night” for its employees in zero gravity. The unnamed German company paid $4,950 U.S. for each employee to fly high, so to speak. “People were dancing while floating through the air — it was great fun.”
My last question: Will space tourists be charged for extra baggage? If not, sign me up. •