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To be or not to be isnít a question. Itís a bloody equation.

01/06/2001. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

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I suppose this question depends on your generation or when you started taking an interest in Science Fiction but it should apply to most of you reading this no matter what part of the world you live in. This harkens back to your first year at infant or junior school when a teacher asks what do you want to be when you leave school? How many say they want to be an astronaut?

Hello everyone

I suppose this question depends on your generation or when you started taking an interest in Science Fiction but it should apply to most of you reading this no matter what part of the world you live in. This harkens back to your first year at infant or junior school when a teacher asks what do you want to be when you leave school? How many say they want to be an astronaut?

Yeah! Right. There was little thought of the test pilot or scientist status to be considered as part of the qualifications. I doubt if it was even considered glamorous. It was the job that was...well, simply out of this world. The dream place to go and the only way to do that was to be an astronaut. No wonder Star Trek hooked so many of my generation in the 60s. Come to that, of any generation who wants to go off planet.

In reality, there hasnít really been more than a handful of people outside of the Americans and Russians whoíve been in space, and thatís only in recent years. Recent TV programmes have indicated that apart from having the necessary qualifications, that the training is arduous as well. It sorta brings the mystique down to earth and the dreams only through our own SF medium instead until recently.

Dennis Tutu is the first real space tourist. A man whose only thought was for the opportunity and holiday of a lifetime. Granted he was a millionaire who could chuck £14 million at such a holiday but heís become first of its kind.

All he was concerned with was being able to go beyond the Earthís atmosphere, experience zero gravity and admire the view first hand. In recent years, this has gotten more press coverage in the media press about space than anything else. We might admire the pictures from the Hubble Telescope and the engineering skills involved in creating the new space station but itís not like one of us being there ourselves.

Itís been a reminder that the dream is now possible providing you have the fitness and chequebook. It also opens up the possibility that poets, writers and even film directors - if Jim Cameron gets his way next year - can go and express what theyíve seen from the heart than the intellect. The emotional content of being in space has yet to be expressed outside of Science Fiction.

It is something of this nature that will remind everyone why we should be out there then stuck on one planet. It will justify to the man and woman in the street why so much money has been spent getting up there and that if it is to continue why adequate funding must be there to support it.

Above all, it means people other than test pilots and scientists can have such an opportunity. This has to be the best kick to the man in the street that he can still get out there...even if itís only just above the Earthís atmosphere.

What is most surprising is NASAís response. Tutu had to go up to the space station care of a Russian flight. He was not even supposed to go around the American section of the space station in case he broke anything with an enormous surety if he did. NASA has always concerned itself with its space mission is purely for scientific research.

They say there is no room for the tourist. The more cash-conscious and strapped Russians see it as a means to contribute towards their own costs. A rather ironic twist that the Russians are being ruled by money far more than the Americans.

Part of the reason why there are money restrictions in Russia and America concerning space exploration is because neither government can set aside sufficient funding from their budgets beyond what they currently operate on.

Both governments see space as a bottomless pit for money with little results in the short term that they can take credit for the investment despite all the technological spin-offs we all benefit from. Space research is kept alive because itís started and would look a backward step to discontinue it.

That and the need to keep communication satellites in orbit. None of this is helped when neither government allows private industry access. Private industry might be contracted to build the equipment or use of satellite time but space is seen as a national rather than a private concern.

No doubt thereís some mandate concern about individuals or companies putting claim to their own piece of space or the James Bond scenario of a megalomaniac threatening the Earth from orbit. Even more frightening is that neither country has anything available to prevent that happening or there wouldnít be any concern about meteorites hitting our planet again.

Revitalising the public interest with massive support from politicians and private sector alike canít be anything but a good thing.

Now Iím not advocating the end of space research in favour of tourism just opening the door a bit for a few more lucky souls to have a chance to include Ďastronautí on their CV. A section of the space station financed by the private sector for people who pass basic astronaut training and with enough cash to pay for a visit would do wonders to vitalise interest in the space industry.

In Dennis Tutu we also have someone who is advocating cheaper costs too for future tourists. Who knows, but the promise of a Space Hilton Hotel from 2001: A Space Odyssey might become a reality one day this century.

For the present, space tourism is only going to be there for the wealthy but in all things, prices do come down and that can only be good for all of us. Going into space will be less of a dream and more a realistic prospect for any kidís ambitions.

Can that be bad?

Thank you and good night.

Geoff Willmetts

editor: SFCrowsnest.com

PS Lastly, for those expecting e-mails, please be patient. Iím having problems with my modemís ability to communicate the past fortnight and hope to be back on line shortly.

Likewise with my backlog of material. Iím working my way through it. Your patience is appreciated.

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