In December 2005, a brand new reality TV show hit the UK airwaves entitled Space Cadets. Hailed as “the biggest prank in television history; the biggest hoax in space,” (Channel 4) the program tricked an entire group of people into believing they were undergoing a bona fide space tourism training program in Russia, followed by a space shuttle trip around earth’s orbit. Despite the lack of weightlessness, windows and trained pilots, the joke was a complete success.
But surprise surprise, the real thing is on its way. Thanks to Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic (a new company within Branson’s massively successful Virgin Group), space tourism is a thing of the near future. To be exact, a thing of the next decade. Branson and his fellow developers plan to offer luxury space flights within ten years time.
So what can we expect as travellers?
To be fair, the itinerary is still in the planning stages. For the more indulgent of us, however, Virgin Galactic (VG) features on its website (www.virgingalactic.com) an idealistic overview of the luxury voyage. VG envisions a lavish stay at the space port in New Mexico, coupled with “six days of medical preparation, G-Tolerance training, talking to space experts about how to get the most from your experience, fly[ing] the simulator and in the evenings din[ing] with astronauts and guest speakers” (Virgin Galactic, 2006). At the end of six days, you will finally climb aboard none other than the VSS Enterprise (would any other name do?) and prepare to float in space.
It may be science, but it’s not fiction. One organization who is taking VG very seriously is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA is an American agency concerned with the management of airspace vehicles and passengers. In a document released December 2005, the FAA stated its intention to impose rules on the commercial transport of people in space. Human Space Flight Requirements for Crew and Space Flight Participants has two major goals: to establish strict guidelines for flight crew, and secondly informed consent for passengers.
Space Cadets may have been a complete joke, but it ended on a bright note. The disheartened and somewhat shell-shocked contestants were given the big prize, that being a real space shuttle cruise with Russian cosmonauts. Given the circumstances, it’s hard to say whether they believed it or not. Regardless, space tourism is no hoax. Ten years isn’t far off, and we’d better start saving up if we fancy a ride on the Enterprise.
BBC News. US Draws up Space Tourism Rules. Available from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4589072.stm
Channel 4. Space Cadets [web site]. Available from: http://www.channel4.com/entertainment/tv/microsites/S/spacecadets
Federal Aviation Administration (2005, December 29). Human Space Flight Requirements for Crew and Space Flight Participants: Proposed Rule. Federal Register, volume 70, number 249, Proposed Rules, pp. 77261-77290. Available from http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=19129
Virgin Galactic (2006). What Might Your Out Of This World Experience Be Like? [web site]. Available from http://www.virgingalactic.com/en/like.asp