Space, But With Stars: Katy Perry and Russell Brand in Search of the Extraterrestrial
For now, try to forget the bummer news that time travel—at least in the sense of moving a particle faster than the speed of light—ain’t ever happening. Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic is promising a unique consolation prize, on a much more gratifying timeline: Sub-orbital space.
Right now, a ticket will cost you $200,000, with a minimum deposit of $20k, but a larger deposit (or an outright purchase) will allow you to skip ahead a bit in line past over 400 other depositors, and join Katy Perry, Russell Brand, Pharrell Williams, and Dallas Austin near the front of the line, when flights depart in 2013.
Now, you can hold out hope that the price will go down within a few years; if 200k seems like a little much, even for an airplane ride a couple dozen miles closer to Betelgeuse, bear in mind that any form of passenger air travel, when novel, has been ludicrously expensive. Remember this: when Sinatra, in a classic wealth-as-seduction move, implored all women to “Come Fly With Me” in 1957, he was laying the foundation for 50 Cent, not choosing between peanuts or pretzels. That year, the very concept of “economy class” was brand-spanking-new, and in any case, certainly not where the air is, or was, rarefied.
While passenger flights are now cluttered with crying toddlers, SkyMall magazines, and Jodi Picoult novels, the new strata of stratospheric travel perversely mirrors just how much wider the income gap has become since 1957, and how much farther out of sight a little Sinatra-level coin will buy you. So what, besides delirious exclusivity and Hipstamatic prints of the Kármán Line, does the modern person of wealth and taste get for their two hundred grand?
Not a hell of a lot. For the main event, you’ll join two pilot/astronauts and five other passengers on the VSS Enterprise for a three-and-a-half hour trip, “a fraction” of which will actually be spent in sub-orbital space, with just around six minutes of weightlessness. Seems like a steep cost for such a brief time up there, but if it’s a success, longer trips, full orbits, and possibly even a moon landing will be on the program before long, and maybe the frequent-flier miles will count for something.
It is, however, all part of a larger experience. Once purchased directly from Virgin Galactic or an “accredited space agent,” the price of your ticket includes, importantly, “three days of pre-flight preparation, bonding and training onsite at the [Spaceport America] spaceport.” The LEED Gold-certified commercial facility, from which UP Aerospace, Lockheed Martin and Armadillo Aerospace will also operate space flights, is nearing completion in the desert outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (where, not coincidentally, Branson is constructing a luxury hotel).
For prospective space tourists, Branson’s program looks to be a little more inclusive than NASA; he suggests that almost anyone who can front the cash can come aboard. The Virgin Galactic website states “the vast majority of people who want to fly will not be prevented from doing so by health or fitness considerations.”
Still, if you can’t or won’t spring for the 200k, there’s always other ways to float weightless for six minutes, and even if you positively must do it via Virgin Galactic, there are options. You can join the band Muse, who are planning on cajoling a free trip out of Branson in order to be the first band to record a song in space, or you can secure employment among Branson’s expanding Virgin Galactic workforce, or you could attempt to be a future replacement for any of the pilot/astronauts he’s recently hired, provided you have a minimum of 3,000 hours flying “large multi-engine aircraft and high performance fast jet aircraft and low lift-to-drag ratio glide experience.” If you’re still a bit short in such qualifications, the National Test Pilot School in nearby California does offer a course, but tuition is a keep-the-riffraff-out $918,000 – enough for seats on the VSS Enterprise for you and three homeboys, so why bother.
In spite of the cost, and perhaps a limited bang for one’s buck, if you’re an “outer space” fanatic and if money’s no object, it’ll be like no six minutes you’ve ever experienced before, as Katy Perry’s testimony, reported in a constellation of sites online, demonstrates. “Russell and I are interested in anything extraterrestrial,” she says. “I just thought, ‘What else can I give this man?’ He’s had every experience in the world, but not a trip to space.”
Better get up there while it’s still rarefied.
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