Scotland 2040: Spaceships head for Moon with lunar golfers and crater ramblers aboard

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THE tourist pursuits of sun-bathing and waterskiing will be replaced by lunar golf and rambling around Moon craters, a VisitScotland futurologist predicted yesterday.

By 2040, a fortnight on the Moon could be as easy as a jaunt to the Costa del Sol, while flights will depart from RAF Lossie-mouth, according to Ian Yeoman - who analyses future trends for the quango.

The future of space tourism was addressed during a seminar at Stirling University, where VisitScotland supported commercial space flights that could be launched from Scotland within five years.

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic firm plans to begin commercial passenger flights into space, departing from RAF Lossiemouth, by 2011.

The flights will allow the public to experience the thrill of weightlessness outside the Earth's atmosphere at a cost of 120,000 per ticket.

However, Mr Yeoman expects there to be resorts on the Moon within four decades.

He said: "By 2040 or 2050, if there is a base on the Moon, then there will be tourist flights to spend a few days there. There is no reason why there cannot be rounds of lunar golf. Just imagine the Ramblers' Association going round the craters. There will be sceptics, but I would remind them that, in 1939, to fly the Atlantic cost the equivalent of 79,000 and today it can be achieved for less than 400."

Mr Yeoman, who will publish a book called Tomorrow's Tourist next year, is a scenario-planning manager and he believes space travel could be an enormous benefit to the nation.

He said: "Scotland is in pole position to become a prime space tourism destination. We certainly believe it is realistic and will do everything we can to turn it into reality.

"The way the markets are going at the moment, the consumer is driving for the ultimate experience. Once you have tried bungee-jumping and parachuting, where else is there to go? We believe the answer to that question could be outer space.

"Having a space port in Scotland would raise our profile massively and would give the whole tourism sector a tremendous boost."

The conference was attended by Will Whitburn, the president of Virgin Galactic, who visited RAF Lossiemouth in August to discuss the possibility of using the facility to launch space flights.

He said: "We have already designed a spaceship system that works, so we are entering a very exciting phase. We are going to be testing it in early 2008, and I think we could be flying flights from Scotland, hopefully at Lossiemouth, by 2011 or 2012."

Watch this space for future developments

DENNIS Tito, an American businessman, was the first private individual to pay for the privilege of flying into space. Since his mission to the International Space Station in 2001 - rumoured to have cost $20 million (11 million) - he has been followed by South African Mark Shuttleworth in 2002 and Gregory Olsen, an American, last year. Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-born US citizen, last month became the first female space tourist.

All of their flights were organised by US-based Space Adventures Ltd.

Virgin Galactic is one of a number of firms developing vehicles capable of making suborbital flights, reaching altitudes of up to 160km.

Plans for space hotels are also in the works. Bigelow Aerospace have designed inflatable space habitats and hope to launch the first commercial space station by 2010. Sir Richard Branson hopes to build a space hotel within his lifetime, and Hilton International have announced a project called Space Islands, connecting used fuel tanks from the Space Shuttle.