A & S Interview: Anousheh Ansari
The X-Prize sponsor and space tourist talks about trips to orbit, past and future.
- By Bettina H. Chavanne
- AirSpaceMag.com, September 01, 2007
(Page 4 of 5)
We didn’t have time on my flight, but I wanted to see if I could put a telescope outside the station or on a satellite of the station and make that available to amateur astronomers and students so they could access it online and observe space from space. I love astronomy and astrophysics.
A&S: There are several notable companies competing in the commercial space flight arena—to be first, to be the most popular, the most successful. In your opinion, which company has the greatest odds of success and why?
Ansari: I can’t tell you for sure. I think many companies will be successful. It’s a venture that’s just starting up. Sometimes the first company to gain ground doesn’t end up to be the dominant one in the long term. Of course, I think Virgin Galactic and SpaceShipOne are ahead of everyone else because of the accomplishment they’ve already made. And they already have a global brand name like Virgin behind them. That branding combined with the fact that Rutan has achieved so much probably gives them a better chance. But I know there are several very smart entrepreneurs building space ships. I’m sure they’ll be successful as well, although it may take them longer to enter marketplace.
A&S: Why is there a need for more than one commercial space tourism company?
Ansari: We need the competition to bring prices down. Also, everyone’s approach is very different. If Blue Origin offers flight, it’ll be a completely different experience because the launch and landing are different. It will encourage people to try different ways of flying to space.
A&S: Do you believe that the thrill of five minutes of weightlessness is enough to sustain an entire industry? How do you think the commercial space industry is going to manage to keep a steady flow of customers when it’s such an expensive trip?
Ansari: I definitely believe so, and that comes from my personal experience. Once you experience weightlessness, you become an addict. There’s no way you come back and say, “Great I can move on now.” To do one of the suborbital flights is a more pleasant experience than doing a zero-G flight [in the KC-135 “Vomit Comet”] because [in the airplane] you do numerous parabolas—you have G forces and then none, back and forth, and some people don’t like that. With suborbital flight, you have a continuous time of weightlessness so it’s a more lasting experience.
Orbital flights will always be more complicated, with more health restrictions. They’re a lot harder on the body and not many people will want to do it. An orbital flight requires more training and preparation. Sub-orbital flights will basically be available to almost anybody regardless of health, age, etc.
Five minutes may not seem that long, but I’ve done zero-G flights for 30 seconds. In that 30 seconds, you can do so much and you remember every moment of those parabolas. It is still a significant experience. They’ll enjoy that.
Competition in the sub-orbital market will be critical. If you keep prices at the $200,000 level, it will be a limited market. But if you bring the price down to the $10,000 level—and maybe ultimately in 25 years to $5,000—you will have lots of people. These flights don’t have to be very costly.
A&S: Nausea is a real issue for future space travelers. You struggled with it yourself during your training and then you were sick in space. What would you say to people who are worried that getting sick will mar their five minutes of zero-G?
Ansari: The first 18 hours of my flight, I was fine. I got sick because I set it off. The astronauts told me I shouldn’t do sudden movements, flipping around, and looking outside in Soyuz. Soyuz spins on its axis and orbits the earth. I was just so excited, I forgot my training, so I set it off. Aside from that, there’s medication astronauts take on short missions that have been used for a long time. You can’t take it everyday, but if you take one pill, that will sustain you and you’ll have an enjoyable experience. On a short suborbital flight people won’t have to worry about it too much.