Tim Peake: Commercialisation of space is a “game changer”
Speaking at New Scientist Live in London, ESA astronaut Tim Peake has spoken about the growth of the commercial space sector, saying companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX are “forcing technology and industry” to compete, and “reducing the cost of entry” to space.
With specific reference to SpaceX’s Dragon cargo vessel, which recently delivered a mass of supplies, modules and experiments (including a squad of mice) to the International Space Station (ISS), Peake said we are entering a new “era” of commercialised space travel. He spoke about the potential for private companies to help push propulsion technologies that could dramatically lower the time it would take a crew to reach Mars.
Al Worden, the former US astronaut who was the pilot of NASA’s Apollo 15, said he welcomed commercial companies but was doubtful about ambitions of SpaceX to get to Mars. “I know Elon [Musk] talks about going to Mars, but I don’t see that as a commercial enterprise. I see it being too expensive.”
Worden, who teasingly claimed he was asleep when the rocket carrying him into orbit launched, spoke warmly – if regretfully – about his moonwalk in 1971: “I practiced it so many times that I did it really quickly.”
Responding to a question from Stephen Hawking – simply, “moon or mars?” – Worden said he saw “no good reason to go back to the moon”:
“Going to Mars should be our big goal. We’re going to have to have help. We talk a lot about what the ISS costs, but it’s small change in what it’ll cost to go to Mars. […] To me the most important part [for private companies] is developing the technology that’ll take us there.”
Helen Sharman, the first Briton in space, agreed that Mars should be the goal, but added that humans still have much to gain from exploration of the moon. When asked about the ideal crew make-up for long-haul space flight, she cited an unpublished NASA study, focused on competition and teamwork, which apparently concluded: “the first crew to go to Mars should be an all-female crew”.
She talked about the joy of working across global cultures; something that was echoed by Worden. “I don’t care what the culture is. I don’t care what the religion is. I don’t care what the colour is […] People to people are still people, and they can get along.”
Peake said that if he had the opportunity to go to space, the thing he would most anticipate is the view of the planet earth: “At night time, it is a mass of civilisation.” Closing the talk, he expanded his views on the commercialisation, saying space tourism is “feasible” but that there are clear demands on fitness that potential space travellers will need to face before they can reach orbit.