Here’s the vacation we all need – a trip off this beleaguered planet. Commercial space travel – space flight just for the hell of it – is only a matter of time, a very short time, says Weekly Playboy (Oct 17). 2012? 2013? Soon.
Entrepreneurs and engineers all over the world are competing to propel rockets higher and prices lower. Winning the price war so far, in Weekly Playboy’s view, is California’s Xcor with its Lynx rocket – a two-seater spaceship smaller than a private jet. One pilot, one passenger. The destination? One hundred kilometers straight up, “on the boundary of outer space.” Twenty-five minutes, four of them weightless – zero gravity. If that doesn’t melt your terrestrial tensions, what will? How much? If you have to ask you probably can’t afford it. Still, with the yen soaring the way it is, it’s something of a bargain – 7.6 million yen, by the magazine’s calculation.
Virgin Galactic’s program is more elaborate, and pricier in proportion. Two pilots, six passengers, in a plane bound 110 km up – past the boundary of outer space, into the stratosphere. Take-off and landing will be at a spaceport, the world’s first, currently under construction in New Mexico. The $200,000 fare (15.2 million yen) hasn’t discouraged at least 430 would-be voyagers from booking reservations – they’re serious enough about it to leave $20,000 deposits.
There’s something about space that appeals despite – because of? – its emptiness. The first earthling to get there was not human but canine, a Russian stray dog named Laika who was sent aboard Sputnik 2 in November 1957, dying within hours, apparently, from overheating. Next, in 1961, came Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who orbited the Earth once aboard the Vostok spacecraft and lived to tell the tale. “The feeling of weightlessness,” he said, rather prosaically, “was somewhat unfamiliar.”
The first Japanese in space was not an astronaut but a television journalist, Toyohiro Akiyama of the TBS network. He flew in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the Mir Space Station in 1990, a one-week excursion during which he sent back daily news reports. Five years later, says Weekly Playboy, “he became disgusted with money and power, quit TBS, and took up organic farming in Fukushima Prefecture.” Zero gravity can do that to you.
No Japanese entrepreneurs have been mentioned so far. There is one – temporarily sidelined, however, by a prison sentence. Takafumi Horie, serving two and a half years for fraud in connection with Livedoor, the Internet portal he founded, has been interested in the field since 2005. In a message from prison to Weekly Playboy he writes, “When I get out, I am definitely going into the space business. Even while I’m in prison, my associates are working on developing rockets. Full commercialization is still some time away, but sponsors are being lined up; it’s happening little by little.”
Soon, if the visionaries have their way, “getting away from it all” will mean an extended vacation from, and off, Planet Earth. Las Vegas “hotel king” Robert Bigelow has space hotels in mind. Four weeks above it all, for a mere 1.14 billion yen! Start saving – Bigelow hopes to receive his first guests as early as 2014.© Japan Today