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Space tourism: Great for scientific research?

Posting in Aerospace

Virgin Galactic may just make one great research lab. The argument: NASA and other scientific research firms may become one of the biggest space tourists.

Virgin Galactic may just make one great research lab. The argument: NASA may become one of the biggest space tourists.

The New York Times made the argument that space tourism is going to help scientific research. In fact, scientists may be Virgin's biggest customers. Virgin Galactic will take you four minutes into weightlessness for about $200,000.

Now that's very pricey for the average bear. But for NASA that's a cheap trip.

Indeed, Southwest Research Institute has plans to send two of its scientists up on Virgin's SpaceShipTwo. The research outfit plans to buy more seats too. In a statement, Virgin Galactic said Southwest Research will assist researchers who don't have space flight experience.

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said the Southwest Research Institute "signals the enormous scientific potential of the Virgin spaceflight system. Virgin Galactic will be able to offer researchers flights to space that are unprecedented in frequency and cost. Science flights will be an important growth area for the company in the years to come."

As other companies like XCOR Aerospace enter the space tourism market scientists are expected to be big customers.

Think of it this way: Scientists are to space tourism companies what business travelers are to airlines. Research will be a core use for space tourism. That outcome would make a lot of sense. It's not like your average researcher has any shot getting a lift on the soon-to-be-nixed Space Shuttle or the International Space Station.


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Larry Dignan


Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan is editor-in-chief of SmartPlanet and ZDNet. He is also editorial director of TechRepublic. Previously, he was an editor at eWeek, Baseline and CNET News. He has written for, Inter@ctive Week, New York Times and Financial Planning. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Delaware. He is based in New York but resides in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure