The term "space tourism" does not always bring to mind positive images. Think chequebook astronauts who dream of going boldly without actually having to compete intellectually with the terrifyingly well-qualified crew who fill the seats on real space missions. Or, perhaps, the ultimate fairground ride.

But while a short ride to suborbital space and back may seem like a pointless extravagance, consider several things. First, why is a short ride to suborbital space and back for roughly the price of a new Ferrari any more extravagant than, say, a new Ferrari? What the wealthy do with their money is their business.

Second, as the crew of several joint US-Soviet missions during the Cold War 1970s noted, once "up there" they quickly stopped looking for their own countries and started delighting in the awesome beauty of the Whole Earth. The more people who see that, the better.

Third, people like the folks at Xcor and Virgin Galactic may just prove that it's possible to earn a living by following a crazy dream like engineering spaceships and rockets and flying them around. We need more engineers with dreams, right?

And, while space tourism - like any other new industry - will surely be littered with failed businesses, the technologies being developed will certainly spin off into other (even non-military!) applications.

Good luck and safe flying!

Source: Flight International