Space tourism, or human space travel for recreational purposes, is in its early days. For insurers, this means it’s an emerging business that most aren’t ready to tackle yet.
Neil Stevens, senior vice president of aviation and space at Marsh, told Reuters in a June 2021 article that “the aviation, aircraft insurance market, and the like, are less keen to take on risks that involve spacecraft.” He added that whether space tourism trips fall under aviation or space insurance is a “million dollar question.”
While some insurance solutions are now in their early stages – travel insurance company Battleface is one company that has underwritten a space tourism product – many insurers are still hesitant.
However, Michelle Peters, director of research and education at space entertainment and tourism company Zero-G, has a solution for insurers who want to learn about this emerging area of risk: Take a flight with Zero-G.
The company says on its website that it aims to make the adventure of space accessible to the public. Its zero gravity flights, which take place on a modified Boeing 727-200 called G-FORCE ONE, offer individuals the opportunity to experience weightlessness without leaving earth through the use of a hydraulic system.
“Space environments present challenges that we just can’t foresee because we haven’t lived and worked there yet,” she said on this episode of The Insuring Cyber Podcast. “I’m no expert, but I really feel that those people who are experts should perhaps come fly with us, understand what the environment is like, and then plan to go to space, see what they’re dealing with, and be vigilant.”
Allison Odyssey, Zero-G’s chief operating officer, added that perhaps this is an area of business insurers will be thinking more about as space tourism is likely to proliferate once the technology develops and the costs come down.
“That was always part of the plan,” she said. “We saw a similar thing in the beginning of aviation, where really only wealthy people could fly in the early days, and the tickets were really expensive. Over time, as those companies got more and more business and had more and more impact, they were able to lower the prices and bring it to the masses. I just see that happening here as well.”
That’s not the only thing about space travel that’s proliferating. March is Women’s History Month, and Peters and Odyssey both said that they’re happy to see more women entering the space field. NASA reported on its website last year that as of March 2022, 75 women have flown in space, including cosmonauts, astronauts, payload specialists, and space station participants.
“One of the things that is happening with the maturity of the industry is we’re finding positions for all types of expertise,” Odyssey said. “I think the opportunity to get involved in commercial space is greater than it’s ever been, and it’s only going to get easier. Like I said, we’re broadening our reach as far as the types of skills we need.”
Peters agreed, adding that as more women enter the space industry, it can have a trickle-down effect.
“I think that as other young women see [women working in the space field] either on social media or in news stories or hear about their stories, they understand that there are role models and mentors out there who are like them. And I think that through that, the path to STEM careers becomes far less intimidating for people who are interested.”
With the likelihood of space travel becoming more accessible, Peters said she feels optimistic that insurers will become more comfortable with space tourism as a risk. This is, in part, because space tourism providers, including Zero-G, continue to demonstrate the safety and security of passengers as a number one priority over profits, she said.
“The record is going to stand on its own merits,” she said. “Over time and with success that stems from that [safety] policy, I think the insurers’ risk aversion is going to diminish.”
That said, one more question remains if insurers do follow Peters’ advice and take a flight with Zero-G: What is weightlessness like?
Peters equated it to her experiences scuba diving.
“I’m a scuba diver, so the closest that I can get is maybe like floating in still water, but you don’t get the pressure that you would get from being underwater or in water,” she said. “It’s very zen-like.”
Odyssey had a different perspective as an avid skydiver.
“I’ve jumped 150 times, and free fall is, as they say, a magical place,” she said. “But again, it’s just totally different than experiencing Zero-G. Zero-G is something that brings out an emotional reaction in people. It’s not just a physical sensation, so it’s just a really powerful feeling that we’re able to share. We just love it.”
While they used their experiences with scuba diving and skydiving to try explaining what floating in zero gravity is like, both women agreed that nothing quite comes close.
“Anyone that’s been up with us, that’s flown and floated, who tries to explain it will tell you the exact same thing, which is that it’s incredibly difficult to describe,” Peters said, “because there is truly no experience that adequately compares to it.”
Check out the rest of the episode to hear what else Michelle and Allison had to say, and be sure to check back for new episodes of this podcast publishing every other Wednesday along with the Insuring Cyber newsletter. Thanks for listening.