Spacing Out

ImageSo, now that the governor has finally signed the “limited liability” space travel bill into law, and Spaceport America is able to move forward with business unusual, the question surfaces once again: would you do it? Would you pay $200,000 for a two-hour ticket to the earth’s outer atmosphere and a place in the pages of history?

I have to admit, it’s the ticket price that makes me hesitate. I grew up when the space age was still new and exciting. I remember sitting six inches from the television screen of our enormous black and white family console unit, watching as Neil Armstrong took his “one small step for man.” I watched breathlessly, knowing – despite the fact that I was only eight years old at the time – everything was changing. I just knew that by the time I was old enough to get my driver’s license, I’d be piloting a flying car to school.

Things didn’t turn out quite the way I’d envisioned them, but it was still a momentous occasion for a young, small town earthling fascinated by the night sky and its limitless possibilities. And somewhere in the back of my increasingly pragmatic mind, I always hung onto the hope that some day trips into outer space would be more than just science fiction. It would be reality. In a way, we are currently poised on the brink of realizing that reality. But only if we have the cash to make it happen.

Getting into outer space, it seems, has become big business. In fact, the official Virgin Galactic website is currently booking for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with a “range of different reservation options to suit your preferences on flight timing and amount of deposit required.” Which means, the more money you plunk down, the more likely you’ll be to get there, but they’ll check your references just to be sure.

According to that website, over 500 people have paid their deposits and are eagerly awaiting their chance to climb aboard the world’s first commercial spaceline. People just like you and me, only richer and more privileged. Not surprisingly, the list of celebrities who are ponying up for the opportunity continues to grow, with such names as Victoria Principal, Bryan Singer, Russell Brand, Ashton Kutcher and Stephen Hawking already on the roster.

How awesome would it be to experience outer space with the brilliant Stephen Hawking? There are no words. With my luck, however, it would most likely be Kutcher or Brand I was strapped down next to. Now, I don’t know about you, but the idea of spending two hours sitting next to Russell Brand in outer space is about as appealing as having exposed nerves gently caressed by steel wool soaked in battery acid. I think it would be a real buzz kill.

Of course, not everybody is bankrupting small countries to join the party in space. Kate Winslet got her pass earlier this year when she first married into the Branson family, then just happened to be on hand when Sir Richard Branson’s mum was in need of rescuing from a convenient fire on his private island in the British Virgin Islands. A very grateful Branson gave her a free pass into the heavens. I’m fully expecting a movie to come from all this. If Branson is to be our new High Commander, Winslet is poised to be his own personal Princess Leia.

Just recently the Huffington Post proclaimed that none other than Tom Cruise has expressed interest in taking Scientology back into the upper atmosphere where it belongs, but that he’s going to wait for others to “test it out,” before he deals in. He’s understandably wary and why shouldn’t he be? I mean, anything could happen. Some of us still remember watching Challenger evaporate in a puff of smoke on national television. And can you imagine a world without Tom Cruise? I have. The differences are subtle, but refreshing.

One has to take anything the Huffington Post says with a huge grain of salt, anyway, but especially so when the writer is from the UK and, apparently, doesn’t know how to read a world atlas. In the very same article about the heroic Tom Cruise, the writer places Spaceport America “in the Mojave desert in New Mexico.” Um. No. The Mojave Desert is a few hundred miles west of us. Spaceport America is located in the Jornada del Muerto basin, but thanks for playing.

So, the space flight roster continues to grow and my name continues to be explicably absent. That’s okay. I’m not bitter. There’s something thrilling about being present in the moment. A lot of history has been made in our little corner of the world. Southwestern New Mexico is officially labeled the birthplace of the Space Age, and with good reason. It started with a really, big bang.

Recently my partner and a group of friends made the biannual pilgrimage to the Trinity Site, where the first Atomic Bomb was tested. When the pilgrims returned, they all said the same thing. It was incredible to literally stand at ground zero and to know that at a very precise moment in time (05:29:21 for the curious), everything changed. Just to be there, some 68 years after the fact, was, for them, awe-inspiring.

Now, here we are again. Same desert. Same excitement. The fact that very soon we may be catapulting a bunch of rich capitalists and spoiled celebrities into the void and onto the pages of a history that continues to unspool beneath our feet makes me feel like an 8-year-old again.

I may not have my flying car, nor may I ever make it so far that I can touch the face of god, but I can always say I was here when it happened. I, my partner and our friends can always say we were actually present when everything changed. Again.

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