UNIVERSAL APPEAL

China’s big new telescope will mint money whether it finds aliens or not

Obsession
China's Transition
Obsession
China's Transition

On Sept. 25 China officially launched its gigantic new radio telescope searching for extraterrestrial life. The 500-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, is the largest of its kind in the world. FAST is located in a mountainous region in the southwestern province of Guizhou. The Chinese government spent $180 million on it, and forced over 9,000 locals to abandon their homes to make room for it.

Today the project launched a less-noticed sideline business. Tourists can pay 368 yuan ($55) to visit the FAST “scenic zone,” which includes a 300-hectare theme park and a mountaintop observation deck for the telescope, state news agency Xinhua reported. The ticket price will increase to 688 yuan (link in Chinese) after the trial period ends. By comparison, a ticket to Shanghai Disneyland goes for 499 yuan during peak periods.

In order to not interfere with FAST’s operations, visitors are asked to deposit electronic gadgets, including cell phones and digital cameras, before entering a 5-km-radius area around the telescope, Xinhua notes. The number of visitors is restricted to 2,000 a day.

Still, if the site lured that many visitors—a big “if,” though a real possibility in a nation with over 1.3 billion people—the ticket sales alone would generate 1.4 million yuan, or a bit over $200,000 a day. Over three years or so that would be enough to cover the initial investment in FAST. Sales of souvenirs and meals would add to the income. (The construction cost of FAST, which has service life of 30 years, averaged at some 110,000 yuan per day.)

County-level authorities near the site are thrilled by the expected big bang in tourism. Slogans translating roughly to “Leverage the large telescope to set off a large tourism boom” were spotted by a Caixin journalist (link in Chinese) en route to the project. Also under construction in the FAST scenic zone, she noted, is an astronomy-themed five-star hotel.

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