7 February 2007
Announcements - General (Good)
Trip to Space Revived
Benson Space steps to the plate
by G B Leatherwood
by G.B. Leatherwood

Brian Emmett won a free trip to space by entering a 2005 sweepstakes by Oracle Corp. He answered a series of online questions about Java computer code. According to the article posted 29 January 2007 to Space.com, that ride to space wasn't free after all: he would have to report the $138,000 space trip as income and owe $25,000 in taxes to the IRS. He concluded, wisely perhaps, that he was unwilling to sink into this kind of debt and gave up his seat.

AP Science Writer Alicia Chang reports: “Since the Internal Revenue Service requires winnings from lottery drawings, TV game shows, and other contests to be reported as taxable income, tax experts contend there’s no such thing as a free spaceflight. Some contest sponsors,” she says, “provide a check to cover taxes, but that income is also taxable.”

Others, including Virgin Galactic customer Doug Ramsburg won his ticket in a Volvo sweepstakes during the 2005 Super Bowl. But Virgin Galactic doesn’t even have a spacecraft—yet. Ramsburg isn’t worried, though, because he’s confident the man building Virgin’s commercial spacecraft— Burt Rutan—can do the job.

It is likely that others will use contests or lotteries to boost their commercial traffic, but Kathleen Allen, director of the University of Southern California’s Marshall Center for Technology Commercialization puts it this way, “From a consumer perspective…I’d be wary. I’d check to see the fine print.”

Still, Emmett says he has no regrets about turning down his trip and doesn’t’ blame anyone.

But according to this CNN article, Emmett may get to take that trip after all.

"But now he might get support from Benson Space Co., a Poway-based upstart founded by rocket entrepreneur Jim Benson, who is trying to break into the suborbital spaceflight business."

Benson has offered Emmett a trip as a "test passenger" when Benson Space Co. offers flights in 2008. In return for a flight on the Dream Chaser, Emmett will provide feedback on the flight.

With commercial space ships still under development, it’s uncertain when the infant space tourism industry will actually get off the ground—especially if each flight is burdened with rules built for more mundane activities.

For the moment, though, the ultra-rich are already plunking down big—though refundable—deposits to experience a few minutes of weightlessness above the earth. And this doesn’t include trips to the International Space Station.
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G B Leatherwood 7 February 2007
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