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Author Topic: The Future of Space Exploration  (Read 3641 times)

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Offline FantasyKittenTopic starter

The Future of Space Exploration
« on: February 18, 2012, 01:09:40 PM »
This is a topic that has fascinated me since I was a little girl. In its most base form, it is simply a childish wonder and curiosity. A desire to touch the bottom of the deep end in the pool, so to speak. But recently, when viewed in a long term fashion, is it not necessary to continue exploration in the mane of survival?

As many know, NASA has been effectively crippled. The politics of where this money went instead of NASA is a topic for another discussion. Regardless, funding has been cut, the space shuttle discontinued, and with no (expedient) plans for a new mode of transportation, the future remains unclear for the United States space program. I do not know the prowess of other countries in this regard, perhaps you, reader, can shed some light on this.

The party line appears to be that the private sector will pick up the slack. Thats all fine and nice if they actually do it, but the fact remains that space exploration in this stage of development is very, very unprofitable. For this reason I am skeptical that anything will get done by them, unless there is some eccentric, motivated rich person.

This is a problem, because we are essentially in a race against ourselves. We need to colonize to survive. We are not smart enough to just hunker down on earth and be okay. How long until the earth is useless, or we nuke ourselves to death (or use some unforeseen future weapon.)

To get humanity motivated, as history shows, you need one of two things.

1. Profit potential.
2. A threat.

Since the destruction of earth is either too far away or too surreal to take seriously according to most people, we are left with making space profitable. How can we do this besides tourism? Could we mine the asteroids? Could we harness solar power at a much more efficient distance? Tell me your ideas! ^_^

-FantasyKitten

Offline Hemingway

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #1 on: February 18, 2012, 04:25:27 PM »
If the potential for profit is the only thing that can motivate us as a species to visit and colonize the rest of our solar system, then I think we can just forget about it. It's dangerous, it's difficult, and it's expensive. Even with a solution like what Robert Zubrin presents in The Case for Mars, going into space is a mind-bogglingly costly affair, though one that, for both obvious and less obvious reasons, is absolutely essential.

I mean, don't get me wrong. When I tell people that one of the things I most want to experience in my lifetime is human colonization of a moon or planet in our solar system, I'm not kidding.

Thankfully, I don't think profit is the only thing that can motivate us. Or, I ought to specify, that profit in the short term isn't the only thing. There are very obvious benefits to settling other worlds. And I do think that just the thrill of discovery and exploration is an important one, though it might be difficult to convince the average person in the street of that. But then again, maybe not. I'd be surprised if I met an ordinary person I couldn't convince of that. And that's to say nothing of the effect something written or said by a person like Carl Sagan could have. But, of course, those aren't the people with the money.

And as for a threat - who's to say we won't get one? Hopefully it won't be another Cold War, but if other countries even start thinking about doing something before America, that's a good thing either way. We have enough potential future competition that I'd say we shouldn't discount the possibility entirely.

Also, two comments on NASA specifically. First, the space shuttle only takes you into orbit, so who needs it, anyway? ( I'm being facetious here, but it still doesn't mean the end of space travel - it couldn't get us anywhere to begin with ) And second, isn't there a plan for a manned mission to Mars by 2030? 18 years does seem like the unimaginably distant future to me, sure, but it's something.

Offline FantasyKittenTopic starter

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2012, 04:52:04 PM »
I actually own the Case for Mars, but I haven't started reading it yet. Also, (perhaps as a result of not reading the book.) I had no idea that there was already a plan in place to go to Mars.

I agree that profit can't be the only motivation to explore. I'm just as starry eyed, pun intended, about space as you appear to be. And its not because it will make us rich. It's because its probably the coolest thing we can do as a species right now. Final frontier, triumph of the human spirit, and all that jazz. You'll find, with many of my stories, romanticizing space flight is something I am inclined to do.

I realize we can't all have Sagans' enthusiasm, but I would generally agree that the layman is inclined to feel, perhaps not as strongly as you or me, that human curiosity is the most intriguing factor in this endeavor. The problem, as you alluded to, appears to be those with money. They have said that they would, provided they get a cost effective mission plan, set out to accomplish these things. The reason that I am skeptical of this is not that I believe that they are money grubbing thieving bastards, though they may very well be. I am skeptical because they have other responsibilities. It would be irresponsible for them to use money to go into space that could be used to make their company stronger. In the mean time, paying lip service to Space Exploration is good for PR.

I don't blame them for this. But it does present an obstacle.

Re: the space shuttles limited range.

True! It seems to me that the most expensive part of this besides research and development is getting off the ground. I've seen a few ways to combat this, first of which is having a port on the moon. Another, that I find interesting, is the concept of a launcher. A loop is placed on the ground, and it spins faster and faster. Eventually you could attach things to the loop and they would have enough velocity to escape the atmosphere. This whole apparatus is several kilometers long, and uses something like magnetic train technology. Don't quote me on that. But, I have heard that the physics work.

I can't imagine the space elevator being plausible.

Offline Hemingway

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #3 on: February 18, 2012, 05:41:24 PM »
A lot of what The Case for Mars is dealing with, is the logistics of getting to Mars. It's a bit dated now, and after looking it up, I see that the proposed plan (Mars Direct), has been revised. It's possible that what I'm about to say is no longer valid, but the original plan, as proposed in the book, involved producing part of the required fuel on Mars. Unbelievable amounts of fuel are required to get to one of the planets and back, and so that's one of the key problems. After all, that fuel has to be transported, too, and that takes even more fuel.

It's called Mars Direct because it doesn't involve any intermediate steps, no assembling the thing in orbit, or anything like that ( another key point was that it was doable with existing technology ). Which, to me at least, seems like a smart move. As much as I like the idea of having a science fiction-style spaceport in orbit the way you have harbors on earth .. well, I have only a pretty basic understanding of physics, but I do know that even if you assemble your craft in orbit or on the moon, you have to somehow get the components there, and the logistical problems really remain the same. Maybe it's easier to do it piece by piece, but the total mass is the same, so I don't see why.

And, you're absolutely right, that the people with the money have other concerns. I mean, especially with the current state of the economy, getting the billions upon billions of dollars it would take, well, good luck with that. But I also think that's a mistake, and one that can and should be corrected. I'm pretty damn pessimistic about most things, and the chances that anyone can actually convince the people making those kinds of decisions that spending incredible sums of money on something with so few tangible benefits seem slim at best to me. But I can't think of many things that would be more worthwhile to try.

Offline FantasyKittenTopic starter

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #4 on: February 18, 2012, 06:24:06 PM »
Thats a good point about the spaceport. Eh, well. I guess thats why Im not an engineer.

On a more encouraging note, at least we'll see the day we go to mars. (hopefully)

Space is so friggin cool.  ;D

Offline Hemingway

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #5 on: February 18, 2012, 06:49:44 PM »
( At the risk of derailing this thread completely ... )

Space isn't "friggin cool". Space is ... incomprehensibly awesome. No, no, it's much more than that. It's ... well, I can't describe it. But I know of something that can conjure up some of the feelings I have for the universe:

Symphony of Science - Onward to the Edge

But, on a slightly different note, Mars isn't the only place that might be interesting to visit. It might not even be the most interesting. Jupiter's moon Europa is also an amazing place, one that's very likely to have oceans of liquid water below its surface. That is amazing, and it's important. We know life can exist in all kinds of conditions, but water seems to be a requirement. So, where there's water, there's at least a greater potential for life, compared to where there's not. And think of what the discovery of life on another world would mean.

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Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #6 on: February 18, 2012, 07:37:12 PM »
But, on a slightly different note, Mars isn't the only place that might be interesting to visit. It might not even be the most interesting. Jupiter's moon Europa is also an amazing place, one that's very likely to have oceans of liquid water below its surface. That is amazing, and it's important. We know life can exist in all kinds of conditions, but water seems to be a requirement. So, where there's water, there's at least a greater potential for life, compared to where there's not. And think of what the discovery of life on another world would mean.

Perhaps why Clarke tried to steer us away from it.  ('All these worlds are yours, except Europa' - 2010: Odyssey 2)  ;)

One thing that I always bring up when lay-people say that 'space travel doesn't help us' or 'we have too many problems down here on Earth' is that the space program has led to many things that we use on a daily basis, from light-weight polymers and cell phones to cordless power tools and smoke detectors.  Not to mention, the fact that re-upping the space program would put a lot of engineers back to work, and take them out of competing for jobs at WalMart. :P  (Seriously, though, there would probably be a lot of jobs created on all levels.  Scientists and engineers have to eat, find places to live, drive cars, etc.  Re-upping a scientific complex would cause a boom in support jobs in that community.)

Offline FantasyKittenTopic starter

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #7 on: February 18, 2012, 07:40:17 PM »
Yes! Europa is my number one (realistic) target. I always joke about finding mermaids. But seriously, who knows? There could be multicellular organisms! I'll settle for single celled though. ;)

I also love symphony of science. This one made me cry.
Carl Sagan - 'A Glorious Dawn' ft Stephen Hawking (Symphony of Science)

Offline FantasyKittenTopic starter

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #8 on: February 18, 2012, 07:42:37 PM »
Perhaps why Clarke tried to steer us away from it.  ('All these worlds are yours, except Europa' - 2010: Odyssey 2)  ;)

One thing that I always bring up when lay-people say that 'space travel doesn't help us' or 'we have too many problems down here on Earth' is that the space program has led to many things that we use on a daily basis, from light-weight polymers and cell phones to cordless power tools and smoke detectors.  Not to mention, the fact that re-upping the space program would put a lot of engineers back to work, and take them out of competing for jobs at WalMart. :P  (Seriously, though, there would probably be a lot of jobs created on all levels.  Scientists and engineers have to eat, find places to live, drive cars, etc.  Re-upping a scientific complex would cause a boom in support jobs in that community.)

Yeah! I always think about that movie when discussing Europa. :P

I didn't think about that aspect of it. It's a good point, since the US is clearly moving away from manufacturing.

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Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #9 on: February 18, 2012, 07:46:49 PM »
Well, we'd get a boom in manufacturing, too.  All those spaceship components would need to be made somewhere, and knowing how high security has been historically in the space program, I can't see those being outsourced.

Offline FantasyKittenTopic starter

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #10 on: February 18, 2012, 07:49:03 PM »
I was unaware of that, but that is interesting.

Trust me, I live in michigan. We can use all the help we can get.

Offline Hemingway

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #11 on: February 18, 2012, 08:08:12 PM »
One thing that I always bring up when lay-people say that 'space travel doesn't help us' or 'we have too many problems down here on Earth' is that the space program has led to many things that we use on a daily basis, from light-weight polymers and cell phones to cordless power tools and smoke detectors.

I try to avoid that, though certainly not because it's wrong. It's absolutely true. It might even be necessary to use that kind of argument to convince the right people. But I prefer to look at the universe and exploration of it from a point of view that's driven by curiosity and wonder. Richard Dawkins put it nicely when he said, "Justifying space exploration because we get non-stick frying pans is like justifying music because it is good exercise for the violinists right arm." It's really just my personal preference, though, and I'm thankfully not in the business of trying to influence decision-makers.

Offline Chipotle

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #12 on: February 18, 2012, 08:14:21 PM »
Hi Kitten!  If you're interested in these things you should check out Elon Musk.  Elon is a crazy busy entrepreneur who co-founded Paypal, and is currently the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX.  He is also chairman of the board for SolarCity, a 100% sustainable sun powered city project / experiment.  Tesla Motors builds 100% electric cars that can go from 0-60 under 4 seconds, and can get over 200 miles on a single charge...not your cross country vehicle, but perfect for commuters who never want to visit a gas station again.  Not to mention zero emissions, of course. Tesla, a small American start up company, actually convinced GM, Nissan, Toyota, and others to advance their electric lines...

Anyway - this guy is a huge dreamer who just seems to envision the future as he wants it to be, and doesn't let others tell him what is and isn't possible.  In fact, he believes humans should be a space-faring race and wants to travel to Mars by the end of his lifetime.  He was originally designing some biodome type projects he wanted to send to Mars...but when he found out that no one could fly his projects there, and that rockets were horribly overpriced, he took matters into his own hands and he built a company to design rockets with him.  They already succeed in making reusable rockets (a huge breakthrough) and, as a privately funded company, are cutting much larger costs than Nasa.

So are his dreams of space-faring humans simply dreams?  I think there are ample resources in space that we could use -  it's just a matter of making it cost efficient.  And after he spearheaded a company building a car running on a lithium battery no one thought could work...who can tell him what can't happen?

http://www.inc.com/magazine/20071201/entrepreneur-of-the-year-elon-musk.html

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Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #13 on: February 18, 2012, 08:28:57 PM »
I try to avoid that, though certainly not because it's wrong. It's absolutely true. It might even be necessary to use that kind of argument to convince the right people. But I prefer to look at the universe and exploration of it from a point of view that's driven by curiosity and wonder. Richard Dawkins put it nicely when he said, "Justifying space exploration because we get non-stick frying pans is like justifying music because it is good exercise for the violinists right arm." It's really just my personal preference, though, and I'm thankfully not in the business of trying to influence decision-makers.

Ah, but the ones that would be influenced simply by curiosity and wonder typically don't need much convincing.  I work at that angle (curiosity and wonder) with the little Oni, who then passes it on to her friends - I'm such a corrupting influence.  >:)

Offline FantasyKittenTopic starter

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #14 on: February 18, 2012, 08:43:51 PM »
Thanks for the link Chipotle, I'll check it out.

Keep spreading the wide-eyed idealism Oni, we can always use more! ^_^

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Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #15 on: February 18, 2012, 08:44:38 PM »
It's a lot easier when they're ten.   ;D

Offline DeMalachine

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #16 on: February 18, 2012, 08:48:40 PM »
There is of course one practical aspect of space exploration that makes it pretty much an imperative: one day, the sun is gonna go red giant and consume our little planet.

Sure, it's a long way off yet - but I figure, why not start planning early?

We're fairly overdue for a catastrophic asteroid strike, too.

Offline Hemingway

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #17 on: February 18, 2012, 09:06:02 PM »
Ah, but the ones that would be influenced simply by curiosity and wonder typically don't need much convincing.  I work at that angle (curiosity and wonder) with the little Oni, who then passes it on to her friends - I'm such a corrupting influence.  >:)

If I ever have kids, I'm going to indoctrinate the hell out of them.

But I think a lot of people just don't know how amazing the universe is, because they haven't been exposed to it. It's a large part of the reason why I love the Symphony of Science project. It's a way of exposing people to amazing concepts in a way that's easy to grasp. Now, that only indirectly ( or partially ) affects the exploration of space, but then, all science is connected, so I don't think it really makes sense to talk about the amazing things we could discover on the planets in the solar system without getting into things like biology, chemistry, and the physics of stars and other things.

One thing that, even as I write this, is becoming very clear, is that the erosion of science education that people like Carl Sagan feared ( and that we see dramatic examples of all over the world ), affects a lot more than just peoples' career choices.

There is of course one practical aspect of space exploration that makes it pretty much an imperative: one day, the sun is gonna go red giant and consume our little planet.

Sure, it's a long way off yet - but I figure, why not start planning early?

We're fairly overdue for a catastrophic asteroid strike, too.

Yeah, there's a chance Apophis will hit us in the not too distant future. A slim chance, but a chance all the same. Its name is not incidental, though maybe a touch dramatic. You're right about the sun, too, of course. I looked it up, and a quick google search indicated that our sun would turn into a red giant in about 5 billion years. But don't worry. If you didn't know, and need some cheering up, you should know that the Andromeda galaxy is on a collision course with the Milky Way, and they're predicted to collide in 3 - 5 billion years. In other words, all life here will probably be annihilated before our sun consumes us. Isn't the universe just full of wonder? It's like Christopher Hitchens used to say, "A whole lot of nothing is coming right toward us."

If that's still too cheerful, let me leave you all with this quote, allegedly by Kurt Vonnegut ( I first heard it quoted by Lawrence M. Krauss, another amazing individual ). Now, he said "Things are going to get unimaginably worse, and they are never, ever, going to get better again!"

Such is the nature of the universe we live in. And I don't know about you, but I find it unbelievably fascinating.

Offline DeMalachine

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #18 on: February 18, 2012, 09:14:10 PM »
Yeah, there's a chance Apophis will hit us in the not too distant future. A slim chance, but a chance all the same. Its name is not incidental, though maybe a touch dramatic. You're right about the sun, too, of course. I looked it up, and a quick google search indicated that our sun would turn into a red giant in about 5 billion years. But don't worry. If you didn't know, and need some cheering up, you should know that the Andromeda galaxy is on a collision course with the Milky Way, and they're predicted to collide in 3 - 5 billion years. In other words, all life here will probably be annihilated before our sun consumes us. Isn't the universe just full of wonder? It's like Christopher Hitchens used to say, "A whole lot of nothing is coming right toward us."

LMAO! Yeah, ultimately, we're all doomed - either by the heat-death of the universe or the big-crunch (if the theories are correct); but I hope that future humanity remains ornery and bloody-minded enough to keep on struggling til the bitter end.  ;D

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Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #19 on: February 18, 2012, 09:20:52 PM »
Hans Behta was the guy who figured out these nuclear physics reactions that fuel the stars. There's a story that once he was giving a Nobel lecture about that. He had a very heavy German accent and he said that he figured that the sun had about 4.5 billion years left to go until this happened. And then he finished his lecture and asked if there were any questions. This guy said, "Excuse me. Did you say 'million' or 'billion'?" years until the sun expands, because he couldn't understand the German accent. Behta answered, "I said 'billion'". The guy asking the question sat down and said, "Oh, I'm relieved".

Offline Chipotle

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #20 on: February 18, 2012, 09:23:02 PM »
Hans Behta was the guy who figured out these nuclear physics reactions that fuel the stars. There's a story that once he was giving a Nobel lecture about that. He had a very heavy German accent and he said that he figured that the sun had about 4.5 billion years left to go until this happened. And then he finished his lecture and asked if there were any questions. This guy said, "Excuse me. Did you say 'million' or 'billion'?" years until the sun expands, because he couldn't understand the German accent. Behta answered, "I said 'billion'". The guy asking the question sat down and said, "Oh, I'm relieved".

 ;D Hahahaha!  Fantastic.  I love this story; thanks for sharing.

Offline DeMalachine

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #21 on: February 18, 2012, 09:27:48 PM »
Hans Behta was the guy who figured out these nuclear physics reactions that fuel the stars. There's a story that once he was giving a Nobel lecture about that. He had a very heavy German accent and he said that he figured that the sun had about 4.5 billion years left to go until this happened. And then he finished his lecture and asked if there were any questions. This guy said, "Excuse me. Did you say 'million' or 'billion'?" years until the sun expands, because he couldn't understand the German accent. Behta answered, "I said 'billion'". The guy asking the question sat down and said, "Oh, I'm relieved".

They initially described that figure as the 'Behta Max', but it just never caught on.

 ;D ;D ;D

Sorry Oniya, you deserved better than a joke like that....

Offline FantasyKittenTopic starter

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #22 on: February 18, 2012, 09:29:22 PM »
If I ever have kids, I'm going to indoctrinate the hell out of them.

But I think a lot of people just don't know how amazing the universe is, because they haven't been exposed to it. It's a large part of the reason why I love the Symphony of Science project. It's a way of exposing people to amazing concepts in a way that's easy to grasp. Now, that only indirectly ( or partially ) affects the exploration of space, but then, all science is connected, so I don't think it really makes sense to talk about the amazing things we could discover on the planets in the solar system without getting into things like biology, chemistry, and the physics of stars and other things.

One thing that, even as I write this, is becoming very clear, is that the erosion of science education that people like Carl Sagan feared ( and that we see dramatic examples of all over the world ), affects a lot more than just peoples' career choices.

Yeah, there's a chance Apophis will hit us in the not too distant future. A slim chance, but a chance all the same. Its name is not incidental, though maybe a touch dramatic. You're right about the sun, too, of course. I looked it up, and a quick google search indicated that our sun would turn into a red giant in about 5 billion years. But don't worry. If you didn't know, and need some cheering up, you should know that the Andromeda galaxy is on a collision course with the Milky Way, and they're predicted to collide in 3 - 5 billion years. In other words, all life here will probably be annihilated before our sun consumes us. Isn't the universe just full of wonder? It's like Christopher Hitchens used to say, "A whole lot of nothing is coming right toward us."

If that's still too cheerful, let me leave you all with this quote, allegedly by Kurt Vonnegut ( I first heard it quoted by Lawrence M. Krauss, another amazing individual ). Now, he said "Things are going to get unimaginably worse, and they are never, ever, going to get better again!"

Such is the nature of the universe we live in. And I don't know about you, but I find it unbelievably fascinating.

Vonnegut quotes, childlike wonder, and a love for all things in space?

I think I would like to write a story with you. Perhaps we can go to europa. :P

Offline Merah

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #23 on: March 15, 2012, 02:37:30 PM »
50 years or so from now, a space elevator will become feasible. We already have carbon nanotubes that have the theoretical strength required for the cable; all that's left is working out the kinks of mass-producing and bonding them, plus a stable anchor mechanism. Given what human engineers have accomplished so far, it seems highly unlikely that we will NOT get past these hurdles.

Once the first cable is up, everything will change overnight. Human civilization will transform as if going through an accelerated Industrial Revolution. Why?
-Once one cable is up, it's a piece of cake to hoist another 50 up. We won't go from zero to one space elevator, we'll go from zero to hundreds of space elevators.
-With these cables up, the cost of lifting cargo into orbit will be reduced by thousands of times... the estimate I've heard is that it will cost as much to hoist 1kg into space as it costs right now to airlift it across the Pacific. Dirt cheap, in other words.
-With a dirt cheap 'launch' technology, what is 'possible' for human civilization will be immediately and completely redefined. Think giant orbital solar power plants that solve our energy woes. Think sending teams to Mars every couple weeks. Think large-scale mining of the moon and asteroids for valuable minerals. Think giant orbital space stations opening by the dozen for commerce, tourism, science, and any other purpose conceivable. Think a real possibility of launching an interstellar mission...

Compared to what we've achieved in the past, designing a workable space elevator is completely reasonable - and it's too important to dismiss as 'science fiction'. This is where it's going to be at, folks.

Offline Tiberius

Re: The Future of Space Exploration
« Reply #24 on: April 07, 2012, 08:55:58 PM »
The future of space travel will depend on modern technology already being developed, fusion power that has been developed since the initial "Cold Fusion" experiments Russian scientists devised in the 1970s that provide multitudes of times more power then nuclear energy  and is close to being perfected as what has been said by European engineers.

Solar conductive engines being developed by NASA which will be launched in the next few years, tens of thousands of solar panels are fixed to the "wings" of the satelite probe and will continue to propel the probe faster and faster. Which NASA estimates will allow the probe to pass by the Alpha Centauri system within 30-40 years with the collective energy collected by solar radiation and cosmic energy.

There is also studies being done on cryogenics so passengers of space craft can go into hybernation while on the journey to other planets. Even current propulsion systems take only months to reach Mars, if the new fusion propulsion systems work as proposed travel times to Mars will be cut down to as little as three weeks.

Just like in the last century scientific progress has occurred at a far more rapid pace then any other peroid in history, scientific development has continued to rapidly speed up. Within the next decade we will very likely have a "city in space" which is what they are calling the proposed space tourism center.