Three years ago I wrote a controversial article, Is Space Tourism Ready for Takeoff?, in which I argued:
The vision is enticing but the facts suggest that space tourism is not
ready for market. The problem is not the monetary expense, there are
enough millionaires with a yearning for adventure to support an
industry. The problem is safety. Simply put, rockets remain among the least safe means of transportation ever
invented. Since 1980 the United States has launched some 440 orbital
launch rockets (not including the Space Shuttle). Nearly five percent
of those rockets have experienced total failure, either blowing up or
wandering so far from course as to be useless. The space shuttle has a
slightly better record of safety — it was destroyed in two of 113
flights. There are lots of millionaires willing to spend one or two
million dollars for a flight into space but how many will risk a two to
five percent chance of death?
Predictably my article generated a lot of criticism, especially from people in the industry, e.g. here and from the CEO of Masten Space systems here. (I responded briefly at the time.) Some of the criticism was justified, I should have noted that space tourists don’t want to go as fast or as high as the space shuttle or orbital launch rockets, but most of the criticism was a simple denial that the evidence from decades of space flight was relevant. "Everything changed with SpaceShip One," I was told.
Unfortunately everything has not changed. I am sad to report that rockets remain very dangerous.