Are extraterrestrial road trips in the near future?


Photo courtesy Rishi Iyer

Junior Rishi Iyer and co-interns take on a summer internship at the Johnson Space Center in Texas for NASA.

For years people have discussed the downward trajectory of Earth’s health due to global warming, and a common question is whether or not the human race will be able to escape beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. 

 To answer, companies have been working toward space travel for the regular person for years and have calculated expected dates to be able to pursue such voyages. Though as of 2021, most companies strive for a tourism take on space travel, where people can view earth from the edge of the atmosphere. It would be an opportunity to travel to space in terms of recreational, leisure, or business purposes. 

Junior Rishi Iyer was an intern at NASA in the summer of 2022. NASA is one of the handful of companies working toward sending passengers to space for tourism. “For the internship we went to many facilities in Texas like the Johnson Space Center,” Iyer said.   

As of last year, the Virgin Galactic Space Flight had plans to take commercial passengers to space for a chance to view earth from a bird’s-eye view. According to Forbes magazine, people had made “active reservations, with each ticket selling between $200,000 and $250,000.” 

This trip was forecasted to happen in the beginning of 2022, however it has yet to take place. Another strong competitor is Elon Musk’s SpaceX. In September 2021, SpaceX launched the world’s first all-civilian mission to orbit. “SpaceX plans to send Yusaku Maezawa and eight guests onboard Starship in 2024 on the first ever private enterprise lunar flyby,” according to the Space Tourism Conference. 

SpaceX’s mission differs from others because their goal is to spend multiple days orbiting Earth, and in return it will be an even higher cost. The Space Tourism Conference (STC) is the first event directed toward commercial outer space travel, where tickets are already available for the event broadcasted to take place in April of 2023. Attendees of the event would be provided with the latest information on Space Travel and its advancements through companies working with the STC. 

Though there seems to be advancements in space tourism, escaping to outer space for a long period of time may not be viable for the near future. It  would be a difficult and much longer process to regularly send humans into space. On Sept. 23, NASA had to scrub a rocket launch due to hydrogen oil leaks. The smallest problems could lead to detrimental mistakes when working with rockets. “I don’t think we’ll be able to stay in space permanently for a while, but it seems like people will be able to visit space soon,” junior Tatiana Pacheco said. 

On the other hand, with technology advancing rapidly and the success NASA and SpaceX have had in recent years, some see a promising future for space travel. SpaceX’s Dragon rocket is capable of holding seven passengers to and from Earth orbit, and beyond. It is the only rocket currently able to return significant cargo back to Earth. Additionally it is the first private spacecraft to bring humans to space. “I think space travel/tourism is possible and would be cool and exciting as it could lead to more opportunities to look for life outside Earth or even for humans to live on planets like Mars,” Iyer said. 

Students can follow in the steps of Iyer and enroll in programs that further educate young people about space travel. While internships with programs like NASA are competitive, any student can apply. “I was accepted into the program because I had a lot of extracurricular activities involving science and math. I’d advise any Wootton student interested in STEM to try,” Iyer  said.