Future Direction for Space Travel

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Since ancient times, humans have observed astronomical phenomena and dreamed of exploring the worlds beyond ours. When Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969, he said, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Space exploration has served as an inspiration to humankind. Although space exploration was only limited to professional astronauts in the past, it is no longer a dream for private citizens reaching for the stars themselves anymore. Last year, Tom Cruise announced that he would film a movie in space. He plans to shooting parts of the film outside the space station and hopefully being the first civilian to do a spacewalk outside of the space station.

Though physical space travel is still inaccessible to all but the super-rich, this is becoming less of a barrier in the foreseeable future. With the continuous evolution of space technology, many believe that space tourism costs will drop and slowly but surely make its way into the mainstream. Since the U.S. and China are the two biggest potential markets for space tourism, it is important to plan ahead on designing space trips that can satisfy their different needs and wants.

Since ancient times, humans have observed astronomical phenomena and dreamed of exploring the worlds beyond ours.

This research white paper provides several insights. First, Chinese people have a higher intention to engage in space tourism than their American counterparts because the latter perceive space travel to be riskier. A possible strategy to promote space travel in the Western market would be to provide more concrete technological information and to emphasise safety in advertisements and social media to reduce tourists’ risk perceptions. On the other hand, when targeting the Asian market, space travel advertisements could emphasise the fantasy and extraordinary experiences.

Second, when considering the space hotel facilities and services, both American and Chinese tourists in general want to have basic facilities of artificial-gravity pools and spa/massage room services. While American tourists have a higher preference for “outdoor” space tours, Chinese tourists prefer “indoor” activities like watching movies. Space tourism companies may consider to tailor-made services according to their different preferences.

Third, food is an essential part of travel. Based on the survey findings, it is suggested that steak and burgers are “must menu items” for space hotel to satisfy both American and Chinese tourists. Hotpot is the most popular menu item for Chinese tourists, I highly recommend future space hotels to include this to shape Chinese tourists’ memories.

Forth, the immersive technology of the metaverse enables users to engage in virtual space travel in anytime and anywhere. Space tourism companies would also consider developing virtual space travel as one of their marketing strategies because my survey finding shows that virtual space tour will increase tourists’ interests in physical space visit.

In addition to space hotel services and food, it would be interesting for space tourism companies to explore how to apply robots to serve tourists in the near future. Robots are usually adopted to help astronauts to investigate and complete dangerous and risky space missions. In fact, robots can also serve as a companion role for humans in space. For example, Japan sent Kirobo — the first humanoid robot astronaut to complete space mission on the International Space Station in 2013. Kirobo is approximately 34 cm tall, 18 cm wide and 15 cm deep with a child-like appearance. It can stabilise itself in zero-gravity conditions and speak in an uncannily natural manner. It can do stress-relieving facial expressions and words to comfort human astronauts and reduce their stresses and loneliness.

The study suggests that space hotels could use child-like humanoid robots to greet guests and increase their satisfaction.

Since the cost of sending a robot to space is much cheaper than sending a human (e.g., they can be left out in space without returning to Earth), it is cost effective to adopt humanoid robots to serve tourists in space hotel.  My research about consumer reactions to service robots (Friendly or Competent? The Effects of Perception of Robot Appearance and Service Context on Usage Intention) suggests that, in the hospitality and tourism context, customers in general prefer to interact with humanoid robots than non-humanoid robots, and they are more willing to use friendly-looking service robots (e.g., child-like) when they are looking for suggestions such as menu items to try, specific things to see. However, they prefer to use professional and competent-looking service robots (e.g., adult-like) when seeking instructions related to tax refunds or travel insurance. These research findings on Earth provide practical insights for robot adoption in space hotels. For example, space hotel could use child-like humanoid robots to greet guests and increase their satisfaction.

Space tourism remains in its nascent phase, but traveling to outer space may be as easy as taking a flight to Europe in the future. At CUHK Business School, we look forward to exploring the latest development in space tourism, and how the hospitality and tourism industry can better seize these emerging opportunities.

To find out more about a specific topic, click on the links below to navigate to the relevant chapter:

INTRODUCTION – Space Tourism Isn’t Science Fiction Anymore

PART I – Consumer Reactions to Space Travel across Cultures

PART II – Space Hotel and Space Food

PART III – Space Travel Opportunity for Public?

CONCLUSION – Future Direction for Space Travel