I’m saving up vacation days at work so I can go into space. Who’s been up there longest, and does he have any tips for how to enjoy such a vacay?
— Rocket Man, via email
Forget board shorts and pj’s. No golf clubs. Pack up some dumbbells, maybe, and ankle weights if you’re planning a long stay. Beano might be good as a courtesy to your rocketmates.
The two spaceketeers who’ve amassed the most hours up there are both Russian. Valery Polyakov orbited Earth for a continuous 14 months in the mid-’90s. He’s the one who needed to exercise to keep bone and muscle from atrophying, as they do in a weightless environment. Sergei Krikalov retired after 803 days in space, but he accumulated that in six different flights. As far as we could figure, neither one said anything in English about what to pack for a trip. A little vodka, maybe? Following a perusal of space tourist info, it looks as if most of what you’ll need will be supplied. Though, if you’re planning a stop-off at the International Space Station, you might bring your own science experiment (sprouting a sweet-potato-with-toothpicks in space?) or crossword puzzles to keep you from getting underfoot. One American astronaut wrote about his fantasy of a plump pair of double-Ds weightlessly bobbing, but I guess you won’t need to pack anything for that.
Have you looked into this subject at all, Rocket Man? The world has about a dozen companies (including the Hilton hotel chain) involved in one way or another with the idea of shooting civilians into the blackness of space, but the adventure comes at a price. Forget shopping for cruisewear and find yourself a few banks to rob. The seven people who’ve already taken to the skies (one woman, one man went twice) paid between 20 and 35 million dollars each for between 8 and 15 days. At Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, one of two big hitters in the field, it will cost you $20,000 just to put your name on the waiting list.
Branson’s VG is homeported at the center of all North American space tourism — Spaceport America, Upham, New Mexico. Upham, population zero, is 20 miles from nowhere, 40 miles from Las Cruces. VG has yet to launch anyone, but they’ve tested vehicles of their own design over the past five years. It’s not a vertical launch. Six passengers and two pilots will be in a powered pod/plane–like craft hooked between two large planes joined at the wings. The two planes take you up, and when you reach 50,000 feet they rev the rockets on your pod, drop it from the dual-plane contraption, and off you go at 3000 miles an hour. What Virgin’s offering at the moment is a three-and-a-half-day experience, three days of on-the-ground training, three hours of weightless, suborbital fun, with a take-home DVD. Total price, $200,000. Whee! Three days in Upham! Many grand plans are afoot for other kinds of trips, details available at Virgin’s “Accredited Space Agents,” the closest of which is in — shocker — Beverly Hills.
Less publicized but more accomplished is Space Adventures, sharing facilities with Virgin in Upham. They’re in cahoots with Russia, using Soyuz vehicles, so your takeoff is NASA-like and vertical. They’re the ones who sent the seven civilians to the space station. On their list of stuff to come is a three-week space tour that includes 16 days in the space station with a 5-day side trip to circle the moon from a distance of 60 miles. Pony up $100 million, please. You can also opt for just an Earth-orbital cruise (once around every 90 minutes) or a one-hour suborbital jaunt for just the fun of weightlessness at 360,000 feet. Starting to think you might need a copy of Space on $5 a Day? Space Adventures will spare your wallet with a trip in a Boeing 747 that does aerobatics to create zero-gravity inside the cabin. You’ll be well within Earth’s atmosphere, of course. And you don’t get astronaut wings, as you do with the other flights. Five thou per person or 165K for a 36-passenger group rate. Can’t wait to see the coverage of some movie mogul’s daughter’s giggly sweet-16 in the Boeing. You know it’s coming.
So, what else is the world planning to add to space clutter? Russian Orbital Technologies promises a seven-room luxury hotel (inflatable) by 2016, with your choice of vertical or horizontal sleeping pod, a sightseeing tour of the moon, three nights in zero gravity, real space food, sponge baths only, and no alcohol. This five-day package costs a mil. Several other companies also have space-hotel plans, or “habitat modules,” as one calls them. Space tourism is the subject of many sci-fi books and films and at least two college courses. A Japanese designer won a contest to create a line of hyperspace clothing, which included a wedding dress. The 2Suit company makes space-suit jammies specifically designed for weightless sex. And if you fear losing touch with progress in the field, subscribe to UniGalactic Space Travel Magazine.