SPACE TOURISM - THE MALAYSIAN MARCH




Introduction to Space Tourism

Space tourism refers mainly to the visitation of locations outside earth. Unlike other kinds of tourism, this kind of tourism is relatively still a dream for many.

Space travel itself has been around for more than 40yrs since man first attempted space flights and then landed on the moon.

Its technology is radically different from any other type of tourism-related technology – maybe because it’s a relatively new frontier just as when the airplane emerged – hence, it remains within the purview of government and a few agencies.

Space exploration is motivated by man’s quest to understand and harness the limitless resources of space. Governments have generally dominated space activities mainly for military, scientific and communication purposes.

Experts with many years of studying and practicing are the only recognized voice when it comes to space issues. For the past thirty years, ordinary people have watched to see when space will be opened up to the public to investigate just as any tourist investigates its destination unimpeded.

This is the birth of tourism in space. Tourism in space is not an easy venture to manage since the broad requirements for such a tourism venture involve specialized technology and managing conditions vastly different from earth conditions.


Fundamentals of Space Tourism

Tourism in space is an exciting venture gaining fast publicity and huge unsatisfied demand. Before this excitement can be realized, the fundamentals of space travel must be sorted.

These fundamentals include:

  1. Finance – payment for services
  2. Training – familiarity with space conditions, transportation systems and possible activities applicable to tourist
  3. Transportation – launch sites, space vehicles
  4. Accommodation - Docking stations e.g. international space station

Finance is currently a big factor in touring space quite outside the reach of ordinary citizens who would be willing to travel to there.

The first private citizen to travel to space for a week stay in the international space station (ISS) – Dennis Tito - paid a whooping US$20 million to get aboard the Russian Soyuz. Since then, a few individuals have joined him.

However, according to Virgin Galactic – one of the enterprising companies offering commercial space travel – the cost of traveling to space currently (as at 2011) stands at US$200,000 with a US$20,000 deposit (Virgin Galactic 2011).

If you intend to stay for a week, the budget might as well skyrocket into the millions of dollars. The US$200,000 might not be a huge amount compared to the millions of dollars fare paid by the pioneer space tourists but is still out of reach for most people. Perhaps, this explains the domination of governments in space related activities untill now.

Moreso, training is an important part of tourism in space. The Russian Federal Space Agency provides up to six months training before a space tourist is finally approved for a space tour.

This is part of the huge financial cost including physical test and fitness inspections, familiarization with the powerful G-forces during take-off and landing, zero gravity simulations and lots more.

Furthermore, transportation to space follows after successful completion of the training. Launch sites and reliable spacecrafts must be in place to provide space tours when required.

So far, the Russian Soyuz has been the only space vehicle to convey space tourists to the international space station (ISS) and back but this vehicle was not specifically designed as a tourism vehicle.

Many space tour agencies are lobbying the Russians to build a custom tourism spacecraft to enable more space tourist visit the International space station (which is approximately 200 mile above earth) and beyond or perhaps help drive the tour cost down.

This is a work in progress for everyone and every space loving organization and government. Cheap, reliable and safe transportation in touring space is the single most problematic part of the equation.

Additionally, accommodation issues must be sorted and it presents exciting possibilities in space. Currently, accommodation remains the International space station.

However, the ISS was not designed for this purpose. Therefore, the request for space hotels for tourist is the clamor and sure enough, there are answers.

Bigelow Aerospace is gearing up for an independent mini space station of space tourists complete with its complex for the whole space tour. Hilton hotels is also voicing out its interest.

With accommodation in space, is there any limitation for other businesses? The imagination of man holds the answer.

Furthermore, touring space can be either sub-orbital or orbital travels. Sub-orbital space travel includes traveling some kilometers outside earth but not into the orbit of another body such as another planet or moon.

On the other hand, orbital travels involve more than sub-orbital travels. This travel includes entering the orbits of other bodies in space or even other galaxies.

Man has a lot of experience with sub-orbital travels for decades and this is what will be exploited in preparation for tourism in space by private citizens.

Many governments including Malaysia are either increasing awareness or beginning to develop these fundamentals to prepare for the exciting future of space tourism.


Overview of Malaysian Tourism

The Malaysian tourism industry is a progressive and successful one. It aspires to be an international tourism destination.

According to the 2010 United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Report, Malaysia ranked 9th in international tourist arrivals, welcoming 24.6 million visitors through its doors.

The impact of these efforts resulted in international tourism receipt of RM 56.5 billion in 2010 (UNWTO n.d.).

Additional information about the Malaysian tourism industry is discussed fully in the article Malaysian tourism.

Foundation of Space Tourism in Malaysia

Development and oversight of space activities is championed by the Malaysian National Space Agency (ANGKASA). This government agency seeks to develop the country’s potential in the space sector.

The foundation for space activities in Malaysia resides in the operation of the Malaysian space center that trains, monitors and operates space equipments, experiments and develops young talents for future space activities.

The Malaysian National Space Agency is mostly concerned practically with science and science-related activities at the moment.

However, sensitization activities are gearing up to raise sufficient awareness for the public to develop interest in the sector. The government is also sponsoring various competitions to encourage interest and participation in the sector.

Considering space activity involvement from the governments’ perspective, the Malaysian government has shown a lot of interest in space activities such as developing space research infrastructure, partnerships with international space agencies, promotional activities and jointly sponsoring commercially rewarding experiments.

This includes research on micro gravity sciences, space weather and scientific payload effects (Malaysian National Space Agency 2011). The foundation for space activity is set which allows the natural follow up of tourism in space.


Future of Space Tourism and implications for students

Space activity is gaining momentum in Malaysia. As Malaysia approaches its vision of becoming a developed country by 2020, the space sector is bound to expand.

As with other progressive sectors, private sector involvement is critical if tourism in space is to find its place in Malaysia. This sector in Malaysia is at the awareness stage leaving a whole new opportunity open to be harnessed by anyone.

Touring space will require a lot of boost to grow as with other tourism sectors. This growth begins from the national policy on space activities.

Where such policies is inclusive to Malaysians, attractive to regional and international investors and practical to the global demand for sustainable space tourism, Malaysia will be on the path to exploiting the limitless reaches of space.

The prospects are huge but a lot of work needs to be done. Shall work-in-progress describe it?

Consider the implications for students. An untapped sector such as tourism in space raises all kinds of opportunities for students of various disciplines but requires careful consideration.

This is because the governments’ direction in the sector will affect the attractiveness of the industry at home and by extension the success of the industry.

Nevertheless, the positive potential of the worldwide space tourism industry in the future is uncontested. Students who wish to be involved in the sector as employees will need to proceed with caution but students that want to engage in the sector as pioneers, trail blazers and/or researchers are encouraged to take the leap.

As increasing private sector involvement is encouraged by governments, private companies and individuals prepared to confront the hassles of startup will be better positioned to reap the benefits of hard work in the future.


Recommendations

The following recommendations if implemented by the Malaysian authorities will accelerate the interest and development of tourism in space:

  1. Development of a clearer, more visible and practical space policy that communicates the benefits of tourism in space to all Malaysians
  2. Development of more learning facilities to train Malaysians on space related activities with a focus on future space tourism industry
  3. Providing adequate incentives for students interested in tourism in space and related space activities
  4. Sustaining space related interest in secondary school students to prepare for the future space industry
  5. Developing appropriate feedback mechanisms to gain insight into peoples interest in space related issues
  6. Develop plans to attract or retain young international talents to beef up development of the sector
  7. Encourage more private businesses and tertiary institutions to diversify into space related product and services
  8. Provide more visible and accessible data on space related activities to provide incentive for further research in the sector
  9. Promote space activities with the same vigor as other tourism sectors are promoted in Malaysia
  10. Improve national budget on space related activities to communicate more commitment to the sector.


Conclusion

This article investigated space tourism, its foundation in Malaysia, its future and implications for students. It was found that the space activities in Malaysia is supported and promoted by the government through the National Space Agency.

Science and science-related activities were predominantly the activities of the agency. Tourism in space is still at the awareness stage in the country and more work will need to be done to ensure it gains the needed momentum required to add positively to the economy.

This has huge implications for students. For example, students interested in becoming researchers and pioneers of the sector were encouraged to take a chance to contribute to the development of the sector.

Pertinent recommendations were suggested if implemented will provide the required boost to ensure Malaysia distinguishes itself in tourism sector from other third world countries as quickly as it is doing in other sectors of the economy. What do you think?


References

Malaysian National Space Agency 2011, Space science, Malaysian National Space Agency, Malaysia.

United Nations World Tourism Organization n.d., Tourism highlights, United Nations World Tourism Organization, 2011 edition.

Virgin Galactic 2011, Booking, Virgin Galactic, USA.



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