OPINION: Space 'Adventurers' Paving The Way For the Rest of Us

Ready for blast off! Cue the music ... For days now, I've been hearing thepoignant song, "Imagine" by John Lennon in my head every time I hear, read, oreven think about AnoushehAnsari's flight to the International Space Station. While reading her blogtoday, I learned that the hauntingly beautiful song is actually one of herfavorites. That's not really a surprise however; most of us space-lovers knowthe relevance of that song to our cause.

Asthe author of the book, "Women Astronauts," I really wanted to write somethingto commemorate the flight of the firstfemale space tourist, but I can't! She's nowhere in sight because herflight hasn't been booked yet. Ansari,who is set to blastoff into space in less than twelve hours from this writing, is not what Iwould call a tourist. The self-described "space ambassador" is better describedas a "space adventurer!"

Thinkof it this way, your typical tourist doesn't spend six months away from familyand friends in intensive training and study in a foreign country. Adventurers,on the other hand, do spend months training to climb MountEverest, or dive to the bottom of the ocean, or to fly into space. Thattakes extreme dedication to accomplish your own personal dream. "Tourists" onthe other hand, plunk down a credit card, buy some appropriate duds, and go ona trip.

Ansarijoins the other space adventurers. These are independently paying space travelcustomers; Dennis Tito, Mark Shuttleworth,and GregOlson, who've paid their own way into space. Ansari is the first femalespace adventurer to pay her own way. So what? It doesn't really matter whatgender she is, her passion is what drives her. Besides, her flight really isn'tthat different from British space adventurer Helen Sharman.The Russians also flew Sharman into space back in 1991, but her flight was(partly) funded by a corporate contest.

Whatmakes Ansari's flight special? It's not because she's the first woman to payher own way into space. It's because of her efforts and dedication to makingspace accessible to everyone. Personally, I'm impressed with her because shehas had the dream of spaceflight since she was a kid, saw an opportunity, andworked to make it happen. Like me, and maybe you too, she was born with anextreme passion for space exploration and desire to travel into space. Unlikemost of us, she's actually making her dream happen. And with her support forspace tourism causes, like the X-Prize,she's helping to make that dream happen for you, me, and others too.

Iadmit that I'm a bit jealous because she gets to see the Earth and stars from space and experienceweightlessness. But, I'm also happy for her. And I think she's bringing hope toall of us that dream of flying into space and seeing our beautifulplanet Earth as one.

So,while these guys and gals are not what I would call "space tourists," they arespace adventurers. They are pioneers blazing the way into space for all of us.And someday, when the first real space tourists actually fly into space, thatwill mean that anyone who's got the money will be able to experience space atany time. Imagine being able to just book your flight and go into space for aten-day vacation!

Whenwill we have real space tourism; the kind where you can put your money down andjust go? When will we have easy and safe access to space? When will the openingsfor space adventurers allow dozens or hundreds of people per year to experiencespace? We must work together with private industry to make it happen. We needto demand our space. We must make our politicians understand that they mustwork to remove roadblocks to private industry's access to space. And we mustget as many people interested in space exploration as possible. That part isstraightforward however; all we need to do is share with them our vision of thefuture.

Spacetourism can help to make Earth a better place in the same way thatinternational travel does. Travel expands our view of the world. It makes usrealize how much we have in common with people who live differently than we do.It makes us see what we have in common. Many astronauts and cosmonauts comeback with profoundly different views of the world after seeing it from space,the way it really is - without borders.

Thetrue power of space "adventurism" or "tourism" is that it can bring home thatperspective of the Earth as one, no separation because of borders, politics,ethnicity, religion, or anything else. Again from the immortal words of JohnLennon, "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope somedayyou'll join us. And the world will be as one." And music out...

LauraS. Woodmansee (www.woodmansee.com) is a science journalist and JPL Solar SystemAmbassador. She is the author of three space books; Women Astronauts, Womenof Space: Cool Careers on the Final Frontier, and most recently, Sex inSpace. She can be contacted via her web site at www.woodmansee.com.

        Interviewwith Anousheh Ansari, the First Female Space Tourist

        AnoushehAnsari Looks to be Next Space Tourist

        FirstFemale Space Tourist Readies for ISS Trip

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