15 March 2011
Other - Vehicles (Good)
Go to Space Without Leaving the Ground
(And other less-expensive alternatives)
by Alan Breakstone
With Virgin Galacticís SpaceShipTwo in flight testing and XCOR and Blue Origin well along in developing their vehicles, suborbital space tourism is about to become a realityÖbut that reality will belong only to the wealthy for the next couple of decades.

According to a recent article at moonandback.com, the suborbital tourism era will begin with ticket prices ranging from US$95,000 to US$200,000, depending on which flight provider the tourist uses.

Even at those astronomical prices, the moonandback.com article states that a minimum of 250,000 to 300,000 passengers will have flown on suborbital flights by 2030. And with more flights, the ticket price will drop.

Moonandback.com quotes a Japanese Rocket Society study as predicting that by 2030, the ticket to suborbital space will have dropped to US$25,000. So in twenty years, space will be within range of more modest budgets.

But for those of us counting the milliseconds to 2030, there are ways to experience the thrill of spaceflight under realistic conditions, without pushing your bank account out the airlock.

One service at your disposal is the Zero Gravity Corporation (ZERO-G). Founded in 2004 by a team including X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis and astronaut Byron K. Lichtenberg, ZERO-G flies its own modified jetliners to provide a civilian version NASAís ďvomit cometĒ weightlessness training.

The company flies out of airports around the United States, taking tourists on parabolic arcs, where they can experience actual microgravity conditions, as well as lunar and Mars equivalent gravity. And the experience is attainable for prices starting at US$4,950 per person.

ZERO-Gís happy customers include Buzz Aldrin and Stephen Hawking.

And If you want the space experience but donít want to leave the ground, there is the NASTAR Center. Located in Southampton, Pennsylvania, USA, NASTAR provides Earth-based spaceflight training for real space tourists and space scientists. Volunteers ride a spacecraft simulator built into a giant centrifuge. The combination of centrifugal force and computer-generated graphics gives the participant a near-realistic spaceflight experience, including accelerations similar to that experienced on suborbital flights.

And if you want to ultimately leave the ground, NASTAR even joins forces with ZERO-G for an experience that combines launch and reentry accelerations in NASTARís centrifuge with the weightlessness experience possible on ZERO-Gís jets. NASTAR programs start at US$5,800 per person.

Among NASTARís nearly 200 graduates so far is the master of Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson.

So while the multi-millionaires own the black sky, those of more modest means can experience real spaceflight conditions at relatively affordable prices. And if that isnít enough, within the next 20 years, even the real suborbital experience could be yours.

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Alan Breakstone 15 March 2011
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