26Jan2012

Space Adventures Planning For Lunar Tourism

This artist's conception by Bill Wright captures a possible future lunar tourist moment. Visitors to the "Tranquility Base Memorial Center" view the "Eagle" spacecraft that first landed humans on the Moon from an observation deck.

Eric Anderson, 37, is the founder of Space Adventures, a company that acts as the middleman for rich people who want to go to space and the Russian space program that sells the seats on the Soyuz rockets. Air & Space Magazine profiles Anderson and tells what it took to launch the space tourism business. The next space adventure he hopes to offer is a flyby of the moon. Check out the commercial above. Tickets are just $150 million each. From Air & Space:

The mission plan… now calls for a liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with two passengers paying at least $150 million each, along with a professional cosmonaut as spaceship commander. The crew will ride in a modified version of the Russian workhorse, the Soyuz-TMA.

Another rocket, a Proton, would launch an additional habitat module designed specially for the mission, which will double the living space and carry more supplies, plus a Block-DM upper stage, normally used for boosting communications satellites to higher orbits. These pieces will link together in Earth orbit, and the Block-DM will fire to send the combined Soyuz–habitat module into deep space.

Since 2001, Space Adventures has arranged for seven private citizens to travel to space. We have now set our sights a little further and have made arrangements for two private citizens to fly around the far side of the moon.Three and a half days of travel will bring the crew around the far side of the moon, the face that Earthlings never see. The crew will skim the mountaintops without going into orbit, swing back around to the front side, and then head home to Earth—a figure-eight trajectory similar to the one traveled by the crew of Apollo 13. After another three and a half days, the crew’s Soyuz reentry module will hit Earth’s atmosphere and parachute down to the Kazakh steppe.

 Since 2001, Space Adventures has arranged for seven private citizens to travel to space. We have now set our sights a little further and have made arrangements for two private citizens to fly around the far side of the moon.

 

 Plan for space vacation not so crazy after all

Catherine Culver, in her training suit, reserved a $200,000 seat with Virgin Galactic, which hopes to start flights this year. The question is: Would you do the same?

I’m a practical person (my kids would call me cheap), so when I read about Cathy Culver’s plan to pay $200,000 for about a two-hour flight into outer space, I figured she must be very rich or very nuts. It turns out the San Jose woman is neither.

Oh, she’s comfortable enough to come up with a $20,000 deposit to reserve a seat on one of Sir Richard Branson‘s early flights to the heavens. But far from loopy, Culver has some well-thought-out reasons for wanting to be among the first generation of space tourists. Well-thought-out reasons that she’s been trying out on loved ones who by-and-large have been expressing the very-nuts theory.

“I’ve been trying to explain to them that this is an investment in aerospace for me,” Culver, 49, says, arguing that supporting private space travel now will encourage its growth and success in the future. “The next phase of aerospace is going to be commercial.” And, she says, with NASA’s budget under siege, “if there is going to be any more aerospace, then this is going to have to happen.”

Space exploration has led to a mind-boggling number of innovations in use on earth, she says. (No, not just Tang.) Even today, space programs have the potential of creating businesses, industries and jobs.

Yes, Culver is a fan of aerospace, having worked in the field (Lockheed Martin) for 25 years. She no doubt has something of a point about the ascendancy, if you will, of commercial space flight — including the trend of tourists like herself ponying up big bucks to take a trip that is out of this world.

Image representing Richard Branson as depicted...

Sir Richard Branson is best known for his Virgin brand of companies- Image CrunchBase

You’ve probably read about space tourism and you’re going to be reading about it a lot more. Sir Branson, himself, the public face of space company Virgin Galactic, says he and the family may take a little space jaunt within the next year. Culver hopes to follow soon after.

I’m predicting this is going to be a big deal in Silicon Valley. Already 75 of the nearly 500 people who have reserved flights are from Silicon Valley, Virgin Galactic says.

Pulling off a vacation beyond the pull of earth’s gravity has all the elements that appeal to your typical valley mogul. It’s expensive. It’s cutting edge. It relies heavily on technology. It involves risk, though that’s not really a selling point the space flight peddlers are promoting. And in the search for a CEO-sized adrenaline rush, you can only do so much skydiving, parasailing, bungee jumping, jet flying, scuba diving, car racing, helicopter skiing and Mavericks surfing. So why not shoot for the moon?

Or at least a suborbital flight 68 miles above the earth that comes with the promise of five minutes or so of weightlessness and a view of the curvature of our big blue marble.

“People from Silicon Valley are very forward-thinking,” says Lynda Turley Garrett, a travel agent among those authorized to sell tickets to outer space for Virgin. Those who have booked flights or talked about booking flights with her give all kinds of reasons. There’s being a part of history; making good on that childhood dream of becoming an astronaut. Oh and one more: “I have another gentleman from Silicon Valley who is after, honestly, I don’t want to say bragging rights … It’s kind of that he’s going up before his friends.”

Yes, Garrett, of Alpine Travel of Saratoga, Calif., says $200,000 is a lot of money for most people. Some would-be astronauts, like Culver, are relying on years of savings and investment to cover the fare. But remember, Garrett says, there are plenty in Silicon Valley who simply are not most people. “For some this is absolutely a drop in the bucket,” she says. “It’s like you and I spending a dollar or a penny at Starbucks or something.”

Culver’s reason includes an element of the childhood dream. Years ago, she and her sister watched “2010,” the 1984 sequel to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and decided right there they would go to space. Encouraged by her mother to study math and science, Culver went to UC-Santa Barbara and became a math major. She joined Lockheed and worked with NASA as a mission specialist. Culver, who is now a motivational speaker, became passionate about space and about the innovations space flight has inspired for use here on earth. She ended up applying four times for NASA’s astronaut program and was turned down each time. She knew the odds were long.

But now she finds herself at T-minus a year or two to her ultimate blast-off.

“It’s a thrill ride,” she says, “plus I think it’s very important for our economy.”

I’ve got to admire the way Culver thinks: Her flight will be fun — and good for the country, too. But let’s just say her argument hasn’t made me any less practical when it comes to laying out $200,000 to get lost in space. Source: Orlando Sentinel

 

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