30 March 2006

Space Tourist - Wrong Name

Given that hardly anyone - Dennis Tito and a handful of others whose names we've all forgotten - has gone into space on a paid-for trip, I do seem to get a disproportionate number of press releases about space tourism - 95% of them from Sir Branson.

Today's is quite interesting (and comes with the usual irresistible photo)...


Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Galactic today announced an agreement whereby pilots flying for Virgin Atlantic could become astronaut pilots of the future. Virgin Atlantic pilots will have the opportunity to be seconded to Virgin Galactic and trained as fully-fledged astronaut pilots flying space tourists on the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo from 2008/9 onwards. Any of Virgin Atlantic’s 700 pilots can apply for the scheme, which will involve a 27 month secondment to Virgin Galactic, where they will receive all the necessary training to make their flying skills out of this world.

Virgin Galactic is a company established by Richard Branson's Virgin Group to undertake the challenge of developing space tourism for everybody. It will own and operate privately built spaceships, modelled on the history-making SpaceShipOne craft. These spaceships will allow affordable sub-orbital space tourism for the first time in our history.


So where shall I put this story on my travel website, in Travel Headlines or New Holiday Ideas/Products?

Wait a minute. What exactly has this got to do with travel and tourism?

This is not tourism. Who gave them the ridiculous name 'space tourists'? They are simply 'amateur astronauts'. Professionals are paid, amateurs pay.

And it's not 'travel' despite its links with an airline. Airliners take people somewhere, where they then get out and do something for a day, a week, two weeks, whatever.

This is just a sightseeing trip. An excursion, like flying over Victoria Falls or the Grand Canyon. The people on those flights might be referred to as 'tourists' because in a wider context they are visiting the area but if a local joined them on the flight, he/she would be a 'sightseer'.

OK, a lot of less-than-solid semantics but my feeling is that when Virgin Galactic start taking people for a fortnight on the Moon or Mars, that'll be 'Space Tourism'. Meanwhile these are speculative press releases about mass-market sightseeing trips for amateur spacemen that are not yet a reality... and I don't think I'm going to give them any space (sic) on a website about travel & tourism. (Maybe a mention in a blog though)

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