Billionaires’ Paradise Among Space
Debris & a Punch Heard on the Moon
For space aficionados, the good news is, here comes another age of orbital traveling. For science buffs, the bad news is that it’ll be geared towards tourism, not research. For star gazers, we’re about to resume our interrupted space adventure. For crazy wingers, that dream will cost more than an arm and a leg.
Up to now, space exploration has been the charge of rocket scientists. But what comes next is the luxury vacation extravaganza the majority will never be able to afford. It’s the trade-off of the times: either we had this less than perfect vision restored, of a future flying through galaxies, or postpone it all for generations.
If it doesn’t seem like a fair choice, and that the distance between an astronaut and a commercial pilot may be wider than the one between Earth and the moon, well, that’s just the way the world goes round.
On the other brighter and slightly radiation-exposed side, we may find that flying above the atmosphere and back, even if represents such a diminished glance of a once grand view, it still is a high-risk proposition not to be taken lightly.
And who knows? Perhaps boys and girls around the world will still dream of one day fly so high that their clock will slow down, and their hearts will race faster, and that this planet’s troubles will seem way smaller, even if for a moment.
In the meantime, commercial companies are already jockeying for position in this multimillion dollar market of taking wealthy thrill seekers for a few minutes above the maddening world (good for them), and charge them a small fortune.
PLAYERS OF THE ORBITAL-HIGH CLUB
Something in common among the entrepreneurs of this new market is that everyone’s incredibly rich. Virgin’s Richard Branson, Pay-Pal’s Elon Musk, or Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, to mention but three, have all spacecrafts virtually ready to take off out of their deep pockets.
Add to them Microsoft’s Paul Allen, who’s funding a giant rocket, and Budget Suites of America’s Robert Bigelow, who plans to put a hotel in orbit, plus a new string of oh so wealthy folk, and you have a whole generation of moguls ready to take over a market that since its inception had been almost always a government monopoly.
Guess who their targeted clientele is: some 500 hundred of their closest friends, who potentially will form the bulk of the first contingent of riders of the stratosphere. It’ll be an interesting experiment in trickled down economics: if such ‘job creators’ really live up to their self-billing, soon enough slightly poorer citizens, say your next door millionaire, will also become frequent flyers.
If the logic holds, it’s very likely that you may be able to find yourself a seat for a trip to the near moon in the next few decades. Don’t think you’ll be around that long? leave the tickets for your daredevil nieces and nephews. Have some faith that, by then, they will have developed a taste for that sort of thing. Hey, it beats hanging around with their snob, preppy friends.
PRICEY COMMUTING TO THE MOON
The New York Times’ Jesse McKinley did a whole inventory of the many companies, large and small, gearing to cater to such an easily bored crowd. Virgin Galactic seems to be leading the pack, and plans to charge $200,000 of each of its six passengers for what’s mostly a five minute orbital glide, within an estimated two-hour flight, between take off and landing.
The never at loss for self-aggrandizing sobriquets Branson has spent the past four years exhaustively testing its SpaceShipTwo, to get it ready for launch. Whether it’ll take off next year it’s still up for discussion, but its flights are booked solid to way beyond whatever his next personal public stunt may be.
We’re far from the point when we’ll be able to check next week’s flight to ‘the gravity neutral point on the far side of the moon,’ as envisioned by Excalibur Almaz Limited’s Art Dula, mainly because his company still lacks a vehicle. But Allen, Musk, Bezos, and XCOR’s Jeff Greason seem all to be just waiting for the right moment to give chase to Virgin.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN (AND UP)
More companies may form overnight, if the trumpeted boom of space tourism ever materializes. But for those of us who’ll likely remain on the ground, looking up, there’s some devilish comfort in knowing that it may not be that simple. Even with the priciest ticket, and the glossiest brochure about it, something hasn’t been mentioned yet.
Space traveling is not for the unfit and or the cardiac. Even a short flight will require more than the three-day intense training for passengers that these companies have proposed. It’s useful to remember how sick a group of tourists felt, when they caught quick rides on decommissioned former Soviet Union jets, in the late 1990s, just for not being sufficiently trained.
In fact, it’s really disquieting to see how 50 years worth of space know-how training astronauts to fly, by both NASA and the Russian space program, have been all but discarded, in order to take to orbit a group of unprepared high rollers, who probably think that outer space flying is not so different than, well, a rollercoaster ride.
Even those handful of pioneers space tourists who hitched a ride to space on the Shuttle and Soyus programs, such as American Dennis Tito, South African Mark Shuttleworth, and Iranian Anousheh Ansari, the first female rider, among a few others, went through a gruesome training program (and several million dollars each), to ride to near space.
KEEPING THE YOUR HOPS ALIVE
But perhaps all that those star dreamers and sky gazers, the crazy wingers and flying minds, need for now is the new class of vehicles that are being developed by these companies. In that way, there may be still boys and girls out there right now, as young as the new technologies tested and retested to take us there, really imagining our next paths outside Earth.
There are many who don’t consider tourism the right venue to allocate such an ancient and powerful aim of humankind, that of flying and living among the stars. But there’s definitely something in that view of Earth as an isolated, small and silent blue ball spinning in the ether. And such spiritually powerful view is indeed a privilege, if not limited to, of those who manage to reach the great yonder.
But just when we were about to get all mushy and teary-eyed about the deferred dream of space exploration, the view a few years back of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, second on the moon, being approached by a Apollo program-denier, accusing him of being a liar and a cheater, is simply too irresistible.
Aldrin, normally quite a gentle guy, has after all undergone one of the hardest adventure any human has ever attempted, and is in no lacking of courage whatsoever. He tries to dismiss the guy, in that matter-of-fact way of his, would ya just get away from me? But that was not going to do it, not that time.
In a swift movement, the then close to 80 years of age, clocked the much younger, pretentious troll, bang, right on the kisser. It was really a giant hand on behalf of all mankind, coming from a man who since early on learned how hard it is to earn your day in the sun, and place in the history books. A firm fist in the face of all self-delusional conspiracy theorists. Bang, and away went the guy.