In addition to being Presidents’ Day, yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s historic trip into space. Although there was some planning, he packed no bag and he didn’t have much choice in his travel wardrobe. And he certainly didn’t have an annoying travel companion. In 1962, Glenn boarded Friendship 7, not much more than a converted ballistic nuclear missile, and was blasted into space, becoming the first American to orbit the Earth.
There was no travel insurance. In fact, several earlier launch attempts were abject failures. NASA scientists weren’t even sure if Glenn’s eyesight would survive zero-G weightlessness. But NASA was in a hurry. There was a rush to get Glenn in orbit, whether it was safe or not, whether it was possible or not. Russia had beaten the U.S. in the space race five years earlier by launching Sputnik, a silver ball with a flashing light on it. National pride was on the line.
Now that NASA’s manned space program is idle, the only ride into space for an American astronaut is aboard a Russian rocket. Yet the demand by civilians for space tourism is growing. It’s a final frontier for those who have checked everything else off their must-see list.
The U.K.’s Sir Richard Branson began organizing Virgin Galactic in 2004 and began test flights in 2008. Virgin Galactic has its sights set on launching wealthy adventurers into orbit from the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport, currently underway in New Mexico. The space vehicles are “designed and built with revolutionary, but proven technology” according to Virgin Galactic’s Web site, with safety “engrained in the culture of our space line operation.”
To experience space travel, you’ll have to be age 22 to 88 at the time of the launch and endure two days of G-force and safety training. From 50,000 feet in the air, not the ground, you’ll accelerate to about 3,000 mph, nearly four times the speed of sound, and launched to about 68 miles above the Earth’s surface. The total trip takes about 3 hours, with only a few minutes out of your seat to experience weightlessness and the stunning views.
Although Virgin Galactic has been taking deposits to hold reservations on SpaceShipTwo since 2005, the price has been reduced and will continue to go down. The current starting price for flights is $200,000 with refundable deposits starting from $20,000.
— written by Jodi Thompson