On 21st July 1969 American astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the moon. 50 years after this milestone in human history, NASA has recently announced that starting in 2020 it will be offering commercial flights to the International Space Station (ISS). And there’s no lack of takers for these tourist flights in space – even though the ticket for the flight checks in at a cool $ 58 million – not including board and lodging which costs a few million extra. So what brings people to invest a huge fortune for a flight in space? Some deep-seated yearning that’s in all of us?

At least I used to dream about flying in space when I was a kid. “Peterchens Mondfahrt – Little Peter flies to the Moon” was my favourite story. And later on like countless millions of people across the world I was fascinated and moved to tears by that legendary photo William Anders shot from Apollo 8 – of the brilliant blue globe of the Earth floating in the darkness of space. And through my meeting with OUBEY I also discovered my interest in science-fiction with its fantastic stories of manned missions to the distant depths of space and adventures of the type Perry Rhodan the hero of the sci-fi series that bears his name, used to brave. Do you also share this passion?  

The fascination of the great beyond”

Even if nowadays we know a great deal about the universe, and can explain the way it’s structured and how it was created, the view of the sky at night with its moon and stars is still something breathtakingly beautiful, something mysterious whose magnitude and grandeur we can’t really understand but which still attracts us and preoccupies us like nothing else on Earth. In places like Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia where the nearest electric lights are hundreds of miles away, the night sky glows with a particularly strong intensity. People who have spent the night there say that the view of such a glorious star-studded heaven was a profound soul-stirring experience for them. 

It’s in such moments that we feel our deep connection with outer space. The view alone opens us up to the unconscious knowledge we receive from the heavens and give back to them. Every astronaut who’s ever been into space says that they’re a different person when they return to Earth. 

And of course there’s also the curiosity to discover unknown worlds and the hunger to conquer them, to test frontiers and push them back – in our imaginations as well as in reality. At the latest since Jules Verne, the idea of leaving the Earth to land on the moon or another planet has become so overriding that it has actually been realised by people in the short space of just one hundred years. Quite unbelievable but nonetheless true. 

Living in outer space

Just as explorers and adventurers once set out from the familiar harbours of Europe to sail to the New World, in future people might blast off from their home planet in search of a new home in space. 

The colonisation of space is an exciting idea that OUBEY once touched on during his architectural studies in a project on “Creating the Design of a Prototype for a Space Colony”. Technical, architectural, biological-ecological, and social psychological issues were all examined from a scientific perspective, and answers given within the terms of the possibilities then available. Today the documentation of the project still makes for fascinating reading. 

One of the driving thoughts behind the project was that “Through a happy chance we and a broad diversity of other life forms have taken root on this planet. And over the course of evolution we humans as a species on this Earth have taken a truly astonishing course of development. Especially during the past two hundred years we have multiplied at a prodigious rate, claiming ever more land. This is not good for our Earth. And this is the why we should leave it alone and seek a new home out there in space. What could or should this new home look like?” 

What a daunting challenge this must have been to work on the realisation of such ideas!

Where our dreams lead us

Yet the step from space flights reserved exclusively for trained and selected astronauts to the possibility of space tourism is now well and truly upon us. That’s great, you might think…but is it really a cause for celebration? 

Humankind has always dreamed of special places that embody our visions of an earthly paradise. And till about 70 or 80 years ago, such fantastic spots in remote corners of the world were exclusively the preserve of the wealthy with enough money to afford them. But with the advent of mass tourism, when more and more people could realise their dreams of holidaying in paradise, a reverse process kicked in which peeled the gloss from such dream destinations and destroyed them. After all, if every person dreaming of a lonely palm beach could actually go to one, then the beach can hardly be described as lonely anymore! Not to mention all the other undesirable side effects! 

So for the foreseeable future a trip to the ISS will be reserved for the superrich who can afford the astronomical price tag without it making too much of a dent in their wallets. This and the fact that the ISS can only receive a very small number of visitors means that the numbers of tourists will be strictly limited. And whether this barrier to mass tourism will be removed – if ever! – is not as yet predictable. So the issue of what might happen if space tourism becomes affordable for people of average incomes is best left to science-fiction for the time being.  

Our imaginations can dream up various scenarios. Would space tourism be a real advance for humankind, sharpening our awareness of the connections between the cosmos and Earth and ourselves as a species and enabling us to reposition ourselves in this cosmic order? Or would we as tourists continue to treat space just as we’ve treated all the dream destinations and tourist attractions on Earth so far?  

The race for unscrupulous expansion in the terrestrial tourist sector continues unimpeded and in recent years has reached a new high water mark with the gigantic cruise liners that dominate the Laguna in Venice on a daily basis. Thousands of people are disgorged who swarm over the city for half a day and in the evening, when they’re all back on board, the floating monster moves on to its next destination. If you’ve seen the pictures, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

I’ve always been enthusiastic about space exploration done by astronauts who are also experts in a range of scientific disciplines. And I still find the idea of colonising another planet in man-made space colonies truly fascinating. The great strides now being made in the development of artificial intelligence are now opening up new opportunities which just ten or twenty years ago would have been consigned to the realm of science fiction but which now present themselves as distinct possibilities. Even so, I still remain sceptical when I think of the possible side effects and consequences such a development might have, given the dismal track record of behaviour and attitudes our species has shown so far in such matters. Are we really capable of tackling these challenges we set ourselves in a way that doesn’t only take account of their technological and physical aspects but also pays heed to their ethical dimensions? 

What do you think?