Risk vs. Reward of Recreational Private Spaceflight (Part 2)

–Bodily deterioration, explosions, space junk, among dangers to civilians.

In the wake of the historic Inspiration4 mission by SpaceX — in which an all civilian crew orbited Earth for the first time — it appears that commercial space tourism and entertainment companies have a promising and lucrative future.

That is, until they don’t. Let’s revisit some relevant history…

It doesn’t require a rocket scientist to explain why NASA grounded its own spaceflight program in the mid-1980s and prohibited all private sector commercial spaceflight, including rocket test launches, until the start of the 21st century:

  • The reason is that traveling to space is extremely complicated from a technical perspective and extremely dangerous from a human perspective.
  • These facts have not changed much over the decades, despite incremental improvements due to new and evolving technology.

Moreover, there are other reasons why enabling private spaceflight for civilian recreational purposes is a bad idea, as I explained in my prior article below:

5 Reasons Why Space Tourism is a Long-Term Mission Fail

Let’s take a deeper dive to better comprehend the many inherent risks of civilian space flight, compared to the fleeting rewards of space ecstasy.

Practical Benefits?

Here’s a significant question for all proponents of commercial space tourism and entertainment:

  • What are the practical benefits of private recreational space travel for society at large?

The answer is there really are none compared to what the USA via NASA already knows about spaceflight in low Earth orbit — not to mention what other countries have learned through their own space programs, like the European Space Agency.

NASA and academia have already conducted comprehensive cutting-edge studies on how space travel causes the human body to dangerously deteriorate.

Groundbreaking studies were issued after astronaut Captain Scott Kelly spent nearly an entire year living on the International Space Station (ISS). Plus, similar space research about the effects of space on the human body over short-term and long-term periods is ongoing. When his unprecedented “year in space” ended and Scott Kelly landed back on Earth, landmark research was carried out comparing Scott to his identical twin brother, Mark Kelly (a former astronaut and current U.S. senator), who stayed on home soil. NASA has already assessed the biological, physiological, psychological, and cognitive health effects of the twin brothers, one who remained on Earth while the other spent a year in space. The findings were not positive from a human health perspective as and other national media reported, based on several comprehensive scientific and medical studies. According to Time:

  • “There’s the loss of muscle mass, for one thing. Then there’s the decalcification of bones and the stress on the heart and the damage to the eyes and the changes in the immune system and the disruption of the genome and an actual shortening of your overall life expectancy.”

“Space travel is exceedingly hard on the human body, and we have a lot to learn before we’re ready to start living on the moon or Mars.” —

  • “It was the arterial monitoring that yielded the most striking results, with Scott’s carotid distending and thickening shortly after his arrival in orbit and remaining that way until four days after his return.”
  • “His immune system took a hit too. The good news was, Kelly’s immune profile returned more or less to baseline after he came home.”
  • “The impact of space on the genome was even more dramatic — and it happened fast. Not all of the changes disappeared — or at least not quickly — after Scott’s return.”

“Tests designed to measure his ability to recognize emotions in other people declined.” —

  • “Vision, not surprisingly, suffers in space, though again, signs of these so-called neuro-ocular changes largely abated when Kelly got home.”
  • “In the generations since the first crewed missions flew, we’ve gotten better and better at building the machines of space travel. But the biological machine that is the human body is not so amenable to redesign.”

“Our species’ future beyond Earth rides on learning to protect that living system during its journeys — and after.” —

NEOs and Space Junk

In addition to the serious negative health consequences for human space travelers, there are other safety issues to address.

One immediate concern is better detecting near-Earth objects such as asteroids, comets and meteorites, which can cause catastrophe for spaceships and their crew.

  • “A near-Earth object (NEO) is any small Solar System body whose orbit brings it into proximity with Earth,” according to Wikipedia.”
  • “If a NEO’s orbit crosses the Earth’s, and the object is larger than 140 meters (460 ft) across, it is considered a potentially hazardous object (PHO).”
  • “Most known PHOs and NEOs are asteroids, but a small fraction are comets.”

“NEOs have low surface gravity, and many have Earth-like orbits that make them easy targets for spacecraft.” — Wikipedia

  • The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum informs us: “Near-Earth asteroids are asteroids that travel to within 1.3AU (195 million kilometers/121 million miles) of the Sun.”
  • “An AU is an astronomical unit and it is equal to the mean distance from the Sun to the Earth.”
  • “Asteroid and comet impacts are not uncommon in the solar system. The Earth is continually hit by small objects (meteorites) and occasional larger impacts occur.”

Near-Earth objects pose a serious threat to civilian space travel in low Earth orbit and beyond.

According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, more than 1,000 near-Earth asteroids have been discovered over the past half century.

Then there’s the troublesome issue of cleaning up increasingly harmful and proliferating space debris in Earth’s orbit (also called “space junk”).

Fortunately, some super-rich entrepreneurs are putting spaceflight safety over profits, in addition to protecting crucial satellites that we rely on back on Earth, like GPS. One of these people is Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

Paul M. Sutter, an astrophysicist at SUNY Stony Brook points out: “There are over 20,000 known and tracked pieces of space debris orbiting Earth, each one traveling at about 15,000 mph (24,000 km/h).”

They [space junk] pose a risk to future space missions, and nobody is bothering to clean it up.” — Astrophysicist Paul Sutter.

This rogue space junk can knock out critical satellites and otherwise interfere with space missions by civilian and professional astronauts.


David B. Grinberg
David B. Grinberg
David is a strategic communications consultant, ghostwriter, and literary PR agent on issues of workforce diversity, equal employment opportunity, race and gender equity, and other social justice causes. He is a former career spokesman for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), where he managed media relations for agency headquarters and 50 field offices nationwide for over a decade. Prior to his public service at the EEOC, David was a young political appointee for President Bill Clinton in the White House: Office of Presidential Personnel, and Office of Management and Budget (OMB). A native New Yorker and University of Maryland graduate, David began his career in journalism. You can find David online via LinkedIn, Twitter, Medium, Good Men Project, Thrive Global, BIZCATALYST 360°, and American Diversity Report.

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