Witness to History

As we worked on this issue’s cover story, “Space Race,” I was reminded of how unique it is to witness the birth of a whole new type of travel By: Kenneth Shapiro
Kenneth Shapiro
Kenneth Shapiro

As we worked on this issue’s cover story, “Space Race,” I was reminded of how unique it is to witness the birth of a whole new type of travel. Sure, there were those who were there for the birth of “modern” cruising — and river cruising — but people have been sailing the world’s waterways, trading and exploring remote cultures, for thousands of years. And organized touring is not especially new. What’s the old joke about Moses being the first tour director? (“Stay together people and watch the flag as we cross the Red Sea.”)

Only those who were alive when the first commercial flights began in the early 20th century had the opportunity to witness a truly new form of travel. Back then, Pan Am’s Clipper service revolutionized transportation and changed the world as we know it. Yet, surely, there were those who said air travel would never be safe enough or practical enough to be commonplace. And I’m sure many thought it was only for the wealthy and not something the masses would ever get to experience. After all, according to Wikipedia, the fare on Pan Am from San Francisco to Hong Kong in 1937 was $950 one way (about $14,700 today) and $1,710 roundtrip (about $26,400 today).

Do these objections sound familiar? It’s easy to make many of those same arguments about space travel. In fact, one company expects to charge about $95,000 for a trip into space, which is just as pricey by today’s standards as that roundtrip ticket on Pan Am in 1937. And we’re not talking about the distant future — several companies expect to launch their first passenger flights this year.

It’s also mind boggling to imagine what other changes space flights might eventually lead to. Space hotels? Why not? And who knows what else might lie ahead. Just as it would have been impossible to conceive of how the jet age has changed our world, we can only imagine what space tourism might mean for future generations. I, for one, am looking forward to the journey.

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