Astronomic Price Worth it to Calgarians
To boldly go where no man has gone before — no thanks.
But to escape the Earth aboard a tested and true spaceship, spending 10 minutes in a weightless void?
It's a trip worth every cent of the $200,000 ticket, says one of a very exclusive crowd of Albertans signed up for a ride with Virgin Galactic, the mega-corporation which plans to make space tourism a reality by 2011.
Edmontonian Rob Heath has paid his $20,000 deposit, guaranteeing him seat number 598 aboard the VSS Enterprise, or another of Virgin's suborbital space craft.
Heath, a publisher and songwriter, says that unlike Capt. Kirk and other fictional sci-fi heroes, he's happy to let others leave the planet ahead of him. “I don't mind not being the first on something like this,” Heath laughs, admitting he's a little nervous about the prospect of space tourism.
“As Richard Branson himself said, when it comes to new business, it's always best not to be a pioneer.”
Still, if anyone is going to make recreational space travel glitch-free, it's Branson, the billionaire entrepreneur and chairman of Virgin Group.
This is no dodgy outfit using aging technology to fling the rich and curious into orbit — Virgin Galactic has hired aerospace engineering superstar Burt Rutan to design its fleet of luxury space crafts.
Earlier this month, the Rutan-designed Enterprise made its first solo glide test from 45,000 feet to a landing at California's Mojave Air Space Port.
“Now, the sky is no longer the limit and we will begin the process of pushing beyond to the final frontier of space itself over the next year,” said Branson, following the test flight on Oct. 10. Bold words, to mark historic steps into everyday space travel.
Heath, however, is just concerned about throwing up. “I'm having visions of floating vomit in my helmet,” he says.
So why do it? And why have six Calgarians — apparently more than any other city in the world — and an Edmontonian signed up for the very expensive trip into space?
“I just want the experience,” says Heath.
“We all have visions of being 95, lying there, thinking would have, could have, should have — well, I don't want to miss this chance.”
Seven Albertans — it's a testament either to the spirit of adventure in this province, or the thickness of wallets in an oil-rich economy.
Or perhaps it's the contagious enthusiasm of Michael Broadhurst, executive VP at Vision 2000, and one of a very rare group of travel agents worldwide with the right to sell tickets for Virgin Galactic.
If anyone is giddy about visiting space, it's Calgary-based Broadhurst: He's saving every penny he makes from space ticket sales to eventually buy one himself. “If I had the spare $200,000, I'd do it right now,” says Broadhurst.
There are also five Torontonians among the 370 space tourists signed up around the world so far, and they can look forward to a two-hour flight aboard the plush, six-seat airplane-style craft.
Ferried into the upper atmosphere by a larger mothership, the spaceship will reach a roller coaster-like 3-Gs of force, before breaking into the thermosphere, about 110 km up.
There, they'll unbuckle and float about the silent cabin, black space above them, the curve of the earth below.
Broadhurst says the Canadians who have bought tickets are investing in the memory of a lifetime. “They're the ones who think, 'It's my opportunity to do something totally and utterly unique in my life.' Most of us won't get that opportunity,” he says.
“This is a close as most of us will ever get to being an astronaut, and everybody I've sold to will be among the first thousand people to ever leave the Earth — this is ten minutes of being absolutely out there.” For those with the cash, it's a tough trip to resist.
“I have all the paperwork somewhere — got it from them a year or two ago,” wrote wealthy Calgary philanthropist W. Brett Wilson, via an email to the Sun.
By Michael Platt, Calgary Sun, October 14, 2010