Friday, January 25, 2008

Fly me to the moon

Sir Richard Branson, founder of all things Virgin, wants to blast average Joes and Janes into space – to which I say, “Cool!” Earlier this week, this nerd’s favorite billionaire unveiled Space Ship Two, a new flying machine that will carry two pilots, six passengers and 600 mini bottles of peppermint schapps 100,000 feet into the air, providing close to five minutes of weightlessness and a chance to say you’ve “done the space travel thing.” So fare, hundreds of people have put down $30 million in deposits for the chance to be one of Space Ship Two’s first passengers.

Given my tendency to vomit in a minivan, I probably won’t be one of those people – also, I don’t have the $200,000 ticket fee – but damn if it doesn’t look fun. The design is sleek and futuristic, but actually functional. The ship works by piggybacking on a jet up into the highest regions of the Earth’s atmosphere before unlocking itself from that plane and firing its own engines, which rely on a combination of solid and liquid fuel. The original Space Ship One prototype ran on rubber and laughing gas – no foolin’ – so I imagine version two runs on wool and whippets. Or something. I’m no scientist.

Besides ushering in a new era of space tourism, experts say this style of aircraft might have other applications as well, including transporting military troops and launching small unmanned crafts and satellites into space.

Check out this article in The Economist for full details on the ship and its capabilities. And watch this video from Virgin Galactic touting the new craft. Watching it made me feel like I was living in some Stanley Kubrik movie…from the future!


Corenn said...

It is on my Life To Do List to see Earth from space. The only option for that used to be becoming an astronaut, but I had to give that up when it turned out I sucked at SCUBA zero-G sim training.


But now, I could turn to the all-American classic option of buying what I want instead of earning it!


Now, where to find several hundred thousand dollars...

Liz said...

Exactly! Buying instead of earning is the American dream. It's somewhere in the Bill of Rights, too, isn't it? :-)

I definitely think it's cool that average people (okay, average people with 200 grand) can now experience this kind of thing. This is how I always pictured the future when I was a kid. Bring on more space ships!!

Trey said...

Hrm. I can save up for that. That's worth saving up for.

And really - if its at $200,000 now, it'll come down in the next 10 years. Wasn't it only a few years ago that we were talking about $10 million price tags?

jenn said...

Oh man, how I love Richard Branson. I'd read about this endeavor in an old edition of Wired a few months back, and I immediately fell in love. So much so that when I went to book my plane ticket out to LA for next month, I decided to fly on, what else, Virgin America. And boy does it look fancy.

Liz said...

Another Richard Branson fan! He's been my favorite billionaire for years. I just love all the things he tries -- even if they fail, he still takes a stab at them. And I really like that he's one of the only airline moguls to talk about finding jet fuel that emits less carbon. He's even talking about building computer servers in outer space so as to lessen the amount of heat and energy they emit on Earth...or something like that. I'm always hazy on the science, but it sounded cool.

qtilla said...

I too adore Richard Branson. Did you hear about his comic book company in India, which produces comics using Indian folktales and religious stories as a basis? It looks awesome.
He has totally replaced Dean Kamen as my celebrity genius crush.