June 13, 2024

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Can every space tourist call himself an astronaut?

Can every space tourist call himself an astronaut?

What do a venture capitalist, a brewer, a software designer, an entrepreneur, an accountant and an artist have in common? They flew into space together on May 19 aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard “tourist rocket.”

The six tourists made a “suborbital” trip. They climbed to a distance of one hundred kilometers, became weightless for a few minutes, and then returned to Earth with their plane attached to the parachute. In total, the adventure took 9 minutes and 53 seconds. Will we have six new astronauts after this flight?

Astronaut is not a protected profession

Astronaut is a free profession. Just like a journalist, coach or artist. But calling yourself an astronaut after such a suborbital flight has no meaning. I once climbed Mont Blanc and was on a fighter plane. That doesn’t necessarily make me a mountaineer or a fighter pilot, does it?

According to my professional association, the Society of Space Explorers, you are an astronaut if you have flown at least once around the Earth. For this you need a serious missile and you have to travel at a speed of no less than 28,000 kilometers per hour. This is eight times faster than New Shepard can transport passengers into space.

Where does space begin?
For the human body, space begins at an altitude of about twenty kilometers. You can’t survive up there without a spacesuit. The US Air Force uses fifty miles (about eighty kilometers) as an area limit. The most widely used definition is that of the International Space Organization (FAI). According to the Italian Football Federation, the border is located at an altitude of one hundred kilometers above the ground, at the so-called Carman Line. The air is so thin that the engines and wings are no longer of use. You need a real missile out there.

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The space station becomes a hotel for space tourists

But what about commercial space travel? There are now thirteen space tourists on board the International Space Station, including software developer Charles Simonyi, businesswoman Anousheh Ansari and billionaires on flights with Axiom. They paid more than fifty million euros to stay in space for a week.

“Many of these special astronauts were called ‘colleagues’.”

I personally know several private astronauts and also call them “colleagues.” They trained hard for months for their space mission. Some even conducted science experiments in space, others just went for fun.

Professional astronaut or amateur space explorer

Maybe I can compare my profession a little to the underwater world. Suborbital flight into space is like diving. Anyone can do it: just look under the water to see how beautiful it is up there.

If you want to stay underwater longer, you must get your diving license to stay longer underwater with compressed air. In the field of space travel, Dennis Tito, Anousheh Ansari and their colleagues have been certified in this way. The same is true for the scientists who boarded the Space Shuttle as passengers. They flew, but they couldn’t control the spaceship by themselves.

Finally, there are professional divers and submarine crews, industrial seabed tube divers, military personnel and scientists. They have been extensively trained and diving because it is their profession. This is how I see myself and my fellow professional astronauts: Going to space is our job. We are specially trained for this purpose.

A space tourist returns to his favorite vacation destination
Billionaire Jared Isaacman chartered the Dragon spaceship from SpaceX in 2021 and flew the Inspiration4 mission into space with three other tourists. He plans another trip to space later this year. He wants to be the first space tourist to do a “space walk.” Until now, this risky process has only been entrusted to professional astronauts.

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Space tourism takes off

In the coming years there will be a rapid increase in the number of amateur swimmers and divers traveling to space. I understand that very well. What if I don’t succeed in being selected as an astronaut? Then I would definitely save up the money to go space diving. I would have felt happy and proud if I had reached space. But can I call myself an astronaut? I do not think so.

Want to read more from Kuipers? For example, it tells you what you need to be able to do to become an astronaut, how realistic space movies are, and that there is no longer room for space debris.

Do you have tips for Kuipers and the universe or a question about the universe, space travel or sustainability? Send an email to [email protected]. André Kuipers answers the most original posts in this section each month.