Potential is the key word. While most of the technological problems have been solved, government and private industry still must work together to overcome such obstacles as space sickness, safety hazards and basic economics.
All that is likely to delay the first suborbital excursions for a few years. And prices - first flights are expected to cost $100,000 or more - are likely to make space travel an option available only to the wealthy and adventurous for several decades.
``It will be very expensive for those first travelers, but they will create an infrastructure that will help lower the costs for later travelers,'' Rep. Dave Weldon (R., Fla.) said at a news conference. ``I believe someday the middle class will be going into space.''
The NASA/STA report, based on interviews with scientists and businesspeople, lays out a road map to space for the average American. It forecasts that space tourism could eventually become a $10 billion to $20 billion-a-year industry. Travel and tourism now generate sales of more than $400 billion each year in the United States.
Surveys show that middle-class America is very interested in exploring the final frontier of space - a dream many have had since watching the heroic feats of John Glenn and Buzz Aldrin, who was present at the report's unveiling.
About 40 percent of those who took an overnight trip in 1996 said they would be interested in taking a vacation in space, a survey cited in the report said. About 17 percent of those said they would pay more than $10,000 for the trip; 49 percent said they would pay $2,000 to $9,999.
At least two adventure companies are booking passengers at $98,000 a ticket for suborbital flights that they say will take place within five years. The companies promise to deliver their customers 2 1/2 minutes of weightlessness at an altitude of 62 miles.
The report said future space journeys could progress to three-orbit trips lasting up to five hours, three-day trips, and eventually resort packages with stays on a space station of one to two weeks.
The STA also announced yesterday that it had created a Space Travel and Tourism Division, which would begin implementing the study's recommendations.
Before dreams of vacationing on a space station come true, space travel must be made 100 times cheaper, 100 times more reliable, and 100 times more regular, said Jack Mansfield, a former NASA space flight official.
Space shuttles cost $400 million to launch, have a 1-in-100 chance of failure involving fatalities, and can be launched only once every six months.
Another major question mark is the ability of average people to withstand the rigors of orbital flight, which require astronauts to be in excellent condition. Nearly half of all people who have gone into space experienced nausea because of the lack of gravity.
Aldrin, the second man to land on the moon in 1969, said this would be solved as technological advances made space flight easier on the body. ``We have amusement rides now that are much more stressful than space flight will be,'' he said.