Commercial space travel is actually pretty important
We've all heard the recent discourse over the actual feasibility of the commercial space industry, especially with figures like these 2018 survey results from Pew Research floating around.
We can agree that first of all, this is before companies like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX made major bounds towards commercial space travel as they have in the past year. And certainly long before their CEOs made their way into space like they did this last week! The numbers are likely to have changed with the excitement of actually seeing people taken up into space, safely. The reusability of rockets has also been better explored, which makes the industry more interesting to those wanting to experience zero gravity for themselves.
Second of all, this study likely is not limited to the primary group space travel appeals to: 18-40 year olds. Those who answered "my health or age wouldn't allow this" as reasons not to board a rocket are not likely to be within that target market. Expense, however, is a concern. The market is still unsure if people will pay up, it seems. Virgin Galactic's stock price dropped 17% after the successful return of its maverick CEO and previous major investor Chamath Palihapitiya has sold his shares. Whether this is due to the internal figures or how they believe the industry will shape up due to these costs, that will reveal itself in time. Most people do not have a the money to fly into space at the current estimates just lying around, so could this really be the vacation destination of the future?
I argue, it doesn't really matter. Virgin has already reported selling as many as 600 tickets, even before the market was as saturated as it is now. In addition, commercial launches have much more to offer than simple tourism. Now, more than ever, we are able to send up payloads containing important scientific experiments that will further aid space exploration. Science-based organizations now have greater access to test and experiment in the rare and hard to replicate contiditions seen in orbit. These experiments would be a huge benefit for companies like Orbital Assembly and ispace that are seeking space settlements and navigating the unknown. Economies of scale are certain to help drive costs down and make things like these more accessible to the layperson (granted, a more wealthier layperson) that the Big Guys ultimately want to attract.
The future of these billionaires' endeavors may still be unclear, but they are making important steps in taking us to the next level of our technological evolution (see: The Kardashev Scale). Regardless whether going up into orbit becomes as regular an experience as going to Europe, there are important discoveries to be made through the payloads that co-board these historic flights.