Need a quick vacation that last’s for a few minutes and cost’s between a measly $75,000 to $250,000. Well, being a short-time space tourist may be the right path for you. There are several companies that will soon be competing for your business; taking you to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, and then hopefully bring you gently back to terra firma. But there’s always that nagging little thought of being totally dependent on under-developed technology, questionable machinery and human error looming over the entire commercial enterprise. And we all know that’s a perfect, favorable situation for a flight to the fringes of space. Personally, I’ll leave this trip to those who have nothing left to live for.
But there is always the suicidally adventurous who will jump at any opportunity to put themselves in harm’s way for the thrills, I guess. So let’s just look at what’s available for the next recognized D2S2 (Don’t Do Stupid Shit) recipients:
Virgin Galactic: This is one of the big players of the new frontier, established by billionaire Sir Richard Branson. The company will soon unveil it’s new SpaceShipTwo. Just a note: SpaceShipOne won the 10 million dollar Ansari X prize in 2004, but it later crashed in a test flight killing one of the pilots due to human error. Yep…sure did. This little beauty is designed to be flown by two pilots and carry up to six passengers on a trajectory to reach suborbit at an altitude just of 62 miles (which is the accepted boundary line between aeronautics and astronautics). It will initially piggy-back off the ground on another aircraft, then at 50,000 feet engage it’s rocket propulsion system to reach suborbit. When you get there, the cabin is supposedly roomy enough for passengers to float during a few minutes of weightlessness before beginning an unpowered glide to a runway landing. This is the $250,000 ticket holders adventure into oblivion. And I can see all kinds of working parts and scenarios that must work perfectly for this trip to work out in the passenger’s best interest, for that few minutes of weightlessness. At least, the trip has been tried a couple of times with SpaceShipOne…a good trip, a bad trip.
Blue Origin: This little wonder comes from another billionaire, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. His project will use a vertical-takeoff rocket topped by a re-usable capsule for a suborbital “hop”. It is designed along the same concept as Mercury 7, which took Alan Shepard into space in 1961. It also will carry six passengers aloft, but will reach suborbit then fall back to Earth using a parachute. Once again you get the perk of a few minutes of weightlessness before your flight degrades and you have one helluva plummet back toward Earth; for a supposedly gentle landing wherever the parachute and prevailing winds decides to send you. Oh, a caveat: there will be no pilot on this winner. You will be totally at the mercy of technology and re-used machinery. Blue Origin has been tried twice, both being successful but unmanned.
XCOR Aerospace (Space Expeditions): This venture doesn’t have a billionaire backing it. You will be guided to space on a concept owned by greedy stockholders and a money-grubbing CEO who’s bottom-line interest will be profit, not safety. This sweet ride will also use the same concept as Virgin Atlantic’s SpaceShipTwo, except it will take off from the ground via a runway on it’s own. No piggy-backing for this rocket-plane called the Lynx. It will convey a single pilot and a single passenger to suborbit, and has the capability to go beyond, which can get you into actual orbit. Then you will possibly be screwed and have to go around the Earth until you get back to your home runway, as long as the oxygen lasts. This ticket will be a steal at only $150,000, which was a recent rise of 50% enacted by the Board. It has not been tested yet, successfully or otherwise. We can call this a commercial pipedream at present.
World View: This company envisions taking passengers to lower altitudes reaching “near-space”, at around 100,000 feet, in a capsule suspended below a para-wing and a helium balloon. Now at almost 19 miles high, it would still give a wonderful view of the Earth but you get the avoidance of all the stresses of G forces endured by the other methods during a rocket flighted trip. You would simply float up to the preferred height, hang around for up to 2 hours, then the pilots start venting the helium and you float down until they jettison the balloon; then the parawing takes over and you land, again, wherever the prevailing winds put you down. Plus it has a toilet on board so you can drink near-beer, and then can pee almost in space. And if your prone to airsickness, you can almost vomit for your friends and strangers. Take a camera for sure!
Space X: Then there’s the last billionaire to play in space, Elon Musk. He is concentrating more on the lucrative ferrying-crap-into-space-for-NASA avenue at this point, but if there’s a spacebuck to be made, he’ll soon be pumping money and hope into it. But based on his Earthbound ventures and recent rocket fiascos, I would just as soon take one of his over-priced electric Tesla cars on a 500 mile trip through the Sahara desert. An expedition of certain doom.
So, let’s take us the little trip down Reality Lane again. Here’s the clue: If NASA, who has the smartest and best rocket scientists on the planet…EVER; who are safety conscious to the extreme; are financially backed by the biggest economy in history; if they have
I’ll just stay on the ground where the undertakers won’t have to pick me up with a spatula to slide me in the crack of my coffin.