Monday, March 13, 2006

Starting a Space Lottery

By Mitchell Gordon.  Richard Bowers, a founding member of what is now the Philadelphia Area Space Alliance (PASA), thinks that it is now time for a more democratic approach for getting people who are not wealthy into space--a space lottery. Even if the winners do not plan on going into space themselves, they could have the option of reselling a winning lottery ticket (perhaps on e-bay) for cash, or could transfer rights to another person--for in this way more people would buy into a space lottery. We hear a lot about democratizing other countries, but space also needs democratization, and the space lottery is the perfect vehicle. For a nominal price of a lottery ticket, one has the possibility of having or giving the trip of a lifetime and a mind-expanding (some would say spiritually- expanding) experience. Some space lottery advantages include: (1) Greater interest from the public about space would be gained, leading to more NASA support. (2) A broader spectrum of travelers, rather than just flight crews and scientists, would be achieved. (3) You would not have to be a multimillionaire to travel to space. (4) The space lottery could help jump-start the nascent space tourist industry. Bowers has a problem with our current state-run lotteries, and believes more people could be helped if individual winnings were capped, so the jackpot could be spread out rather than hoarded to a select few. For example, if 1000 people could win $300,000 each rather than a single person winning 300 million dollars, more people could benefit and have their lives changed by a still sizable amount of cash. Capping the limit on winnings may make it easier for multiple winners, and may be a better way to administer the lottery, but it may not garner the large number of tickets sold that happens when a jackpot goes over the 200 million dollar mark. However, if the cost to travel into space falls to $200,000 per person because of technology and private sector involvement, then one could foresee multiple winners from a single space lottery drawing. Historically lotteries have danced around the traditional definition of gambling. Rather than seen as reckless risk taking, they have used the smallest of wagers to help finance necessities of life and liberty, from the American Revolution to the health and well-being of the elderly today. If the space lottery becomes a reality, another interesting chapter will be added to lottery history. Some say that the lottery ultimately becomes a tax on the poor; yet more often than not, dreams are not free. Whether people would be better off without a lottery--but with a few more dollars in their pocket and no chance for a big dream at all-- I cannot say. But as a space activist, I would be the last one to kill off a dream. That is why the space lottery is starting to make some sense to me. My next step is bringing the idea to the attention of the National Space Society. If the space lottery eventually gets a liftoff date, I will let you know. In the meantime, "live long and prosper." _______________________ Mitchell Gordon is Vice President of PASA and a freelance writer.