This year in his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) a deadline of sorts by announcing that an Indian astronaut would go to space by 2022. This has made ISRO speed up its work on Gaganyan mission, the supposed name of India’s first crewed spaceflight program.
There are a number of new technologies that ISRO has to develop to successfully carry out Gaganyan and several of these technologies are being tested, but there still a long time till the ISRO perfects these technologies. One of the most challenging technologies that ISRO will have to develop is to build a spacecraft in which astronauts can live in Earth-like conditions in space.
If ISRO executes Gaganyan perfectly, then there would be a paradigm shift in the way world looks at India’s capabilities in terms of space exploration. Success of Gaganyan can prove India’s ability to develop complex technologies and would establish ISRO as a major space power. India has been launching satellites for other countries, but what Gaganyan can do is to encourage ISRO to dive into lucrative business of ‘Space Tourism’.
Space tourism, in essence, is putting paying customers into space for the purpose of recreation, rather than exploration. Given that only seven people have actually gone into space as tourists so far, the idea of ISRO entering into this aspect of outer space activities may seem far fetched, but here is what ISRO chief said in October 2018.
ISRO chairman K Sivan on October 11 said that India needs to explore space tourism. “We are creating capacity for it so that we do not lag behind,” Sivan said on space tourism.
If India does enter space tourism, the impact would be huge as investment in space tourism can generate revenues and employment on a sizeable scale. Space tourism would require personnel for building the spacecraft, to training travellers, to investment and insurance.
But, at present there are no laws governing space tourism in India. One must understand that laws that are applicable to trained astraunauts cannot easily be extended to space tourists.
All the ISRO missions so far involved sending satellites/orbiters out of the earth’s atmosphere. But, when humans are being sent to space, then they have to be brought back, and that is a big technological challenge.
In 2011, the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun, conducted a pilot study exploring the scope of a space tourism industry in India, which suggests that India could reduce the overall cost of commercial space travel. It states that at present, anyone looking to buy a seat to outer space will have to dish out roughly $200,000 but if India can bring that figure down by a fourth, it will be a competitive player in the market, said a HuffingtonPost report.
With the rise of companies like space-X and the huge success that ISRO has achieved so far, space tourism may become a real thing in the coming future, but it is hard to predict how much time it may actually take. An industry can only develop when there is demand for that kind of goods or services.