Not just tourism, but university classes in space are right around the corner. That's what came to light in testimony today at a U.S. Senate hearing on the looming commercial uses of space.
In fact, at least one well-known American university already has made a down payment on a Virgin Galactic flight. That's the company that just two weeks ago launched SpaceShip Two and completed its first rocket-powered flight.
"Purdue has a down payment on a spot on a Virgin Galactic science flight," Dr. Steven Collicott testified at Thursday's Senate hearing. " And I do look forward to the day a potential Ph.D. student walks into my office and says, "Well, professor, I flew into space for my Master's degree. What do you have to offer?"
Dr. Collicott, a professor at Purdue's School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, was one of four commercial space experts who testified at the Senate Commerce Committee's Science and Space Subcommittee hearing earlier today.
Recent market studies -- including one just last year commissioned by the Federal Aviation Administration and Space Florida - suggest that space tourism industry could generate more than $1 billion over the next decade.
"In fact," said Capt. Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut and current president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, "universities and other research groups have already purchased some seats, and I would expect that only to increase as the price comes down."
Right now, witnesses said, prices start at a little less than $100,000 per seat and go up to about $200,000.
"It's realistically going to get to the point where universities can buy a seat to send their students to space," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, chairman of the Senate's Science and Space Subcommittee and co-author of the legislative plan that helps get private space ventures started in consort with NASA.
"You might send your class to the edge of space, go Mach 3, couple minutes of Zero-G, and then come back," Nelson said. "That's pretty exciting."
The Florida lawmaker ought to know. He flew aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia on a six-day mission orbiting the Earth in 1986.