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Asteroid mining mission
Video production in space, one of the original proposed uses of SPACEHAB’s Enterprise module, may be a key commercial market in the years to come. (credit: SPACEHAB)

Space as entertainment

The Mars Pathfinder was pretty popular attracting the attention of tens of millions of people to its website on the first day. Hundreds of millions watched Neil Armstrong’s first broadcast from the Moon. People are intrigued by space and are entertained by it. Will this be the most valuable export space has to offer and open the way for space commercialization?

There are many possibilities for space entertainment and they are being explored now by some different ventures to varying degrees. LunaCorp has plans for a private lunar orbiter that would sell high-definition video footage, possibly for use in immersive video games. Orbital tourism is taking off with several flights on Soyuz with Space Adventures (and does Glenn’s flight on the Space Shuttle count?) Suborbital tourism is also attracting a lot of attention: Scaled Composites and XCOR Aerospace both got AST licenses for flight testing.

Until the price of space access drops significantly, video broadcast is likely to be one of the biggest exports from space.

One of the most exciting possibilities is performance art in space. Robert A. Heinlein’s 1950 Waldo and Magic, Inc. and Louis McMaster Bujold’s 2002 Diplomatic Immunity explore the future of free-fall entertainment. In both books, the artists would be crippled on the ground, yet are amazing entertainers once moved into free fall.

You can’t beat the cost per pound of shipping back video footage. Until the price of space access drops significantly, video broadcast is likely to be one of the biggest exports from space. A simple movie set in space might see a good deal of use. It would just be pressurized, have a blue interior, station keeping, and all the amenities of a star’s trailer. A $60-million production budget to buy tickets for a couple movie stars and a director/cameraman for a week of shooting is well within the abilities of the movie studios. Lance Bass flirted with doing a gig on the ISS, but could not get it produced. Until space tourism is a mass-market item, we will have to send movie stars so we can live space vicariously through them.

There are some pretty compelling terrestrial precedents that suggest on-location space shooting is not too far out. James Cameron’s Titanic was more documentary than fiction. All the effort that went into recreating the tragedy of the Titanic made the film an event in itself. At $200 million, the film cost more to make than the Titanic ship itself by a factor of three or so in constant dollars. Since Titanic made more than $1 billion at the box office, how long until someone remakes Apollo 13 using a real spaceship or recreates the Apollo 11 landing? The Titanic sank in 1912 and the movie was released in 1997, an 85-year lag.

At $200 million, the film Titanic cost more to make than the ship itself by a factor of three or so in constant dollars.

At the current rate of growth of GDP of 4%, the size of the economy will be four times larger for my daughter’s generation and 16 times larger for her kids’ generation. (As an aside, could they maybe float my generation a loan of ten trillion or so since they will be so rich?) As manufacturing, raw materials such as energy and other non-knowledge goods make up an ever-smaller fraction of the economy, more money is freed up for entertainment. We are starting from a pretty big base of $300 billion spent on recreation this year in the US alone. It’s big in an absolute sense, but only 3% of the economy. Will my grandkids be spending 15%? So 85 years after the Apollo 13 tragedy in 2055, the economy will be able to afford a $6 billion movie in 1997 dollars or $30 billion in 2055 dollars if inflation is 3%. The US per-capita GDP will be $1 million per person in 2055 dollars so they will be able to afford higher ticket prices.

There is also more appetite for risky productions. Witness Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which will cost over $300 million only seven years after Titanic. As long as these extravaganzas such as Return of the King at $290 million keep making money, the production prices will keep going up. This is in line with the 7% growth rate in nominal dollars available to the most exciting movie project of the year that we would need.

Some of our readers can think of some great ways to recreate the great footage from Apollo on site on the Moon for less than $1 billion in current dollars, which might be available in time for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 in 2019 if growth keeps accelerating. I think the Sloan Foundation might want to do a script since that might spark as much interest in science education as the Hedy Lamarr story. Shooting would have to start in 2018, so get cracking. Ask James Cameron if he wants to direct the movie at the upcoming Return to the Moon V conference on July 16-18 in Las Vegas.