The space port has not yet been built, the space ship is not yet ready for production, but Space Expedition Curaçao (SXC) has so much faith in the whole enterprise that space tourists can now reserve seats on a trip to outer space. The first flights are to take off on 1 January 2014.
‘One small step…..' A promotional video full of references to glorious moments in space travel was the opening act of a press conference during which SXC announced that ticket sales for commercial space travel from the Caribbean island of Curaçao had started. The press conference was held at the National Aerospace Laboratory in Amsterdam.
KLM Director Erik Varwijk and former Martinair CEO Martin Schröder were given front-row seats during the event, which was held on the 50th anniversary of manned space travel.
The real star of the event was Colonel Rick Searfoss, threefold Space Shuttle astronaut and one-time Space Shuttle commander. He currently works as a test pilot for XCOR, the US company which builds the Lynx2, the two-seater space ship figuring so prominently in SXC’s plans. Colonel Searfoss has flown some of the Lynx2 prototypes, which he says rather remind him of a jet plane.
“The key difference is that its performance, being a rocket powered airplane, continues to get better the higher you go, unlike a jet where the performance suffers as you go up in altitude. Of course in flight tests there are always surprises, so you try to minimise those - you approach things very conservatively. We have a saying in flight tests that boring is good, so we'll do a very disciplined, paced flight test programme, to get it to the point where we can then operate it commercially.”
One of the initiators of Space Expedition Curaçao is retired Dutch Lieutenant General Ben Droste. He says that so far, commercial space travel has been limited to putting satellites into orbit for earth observation, climate research espionage and counter terrorism.
However, this is about to change, as SXC is to take paying passengers on a short trip into space. Curaçao was selected because of the nice weather and because it is a relatively quiet area in the region’s air space. Even though a regular airport would suffice – the Lynx 2 takes off and lands just like a regular airplane – a special building will be constructed which bears a passing resemblance to a space ship.
So what’s a ticket going to cost? General Droste explains:
“95,000 dollars, we calculate our prices in US dollars because it’s the most important currency on Curaçao; so that’s about equal to 70,000 euros. And yes, it does seem like a lot of money – and it is – at first this will mainly be for people who can easily afford it. However, I know several people who are saving up for the trip.”
General Droste says passengers will get their money’s worth. He believes every space tourist will go through a ‘life-changing experience’.
“It’s seeing the Earth from a distance, seeing the curvature of the Earth, seeing a pitch-black expanse above you, glittering stars. And then there is weightlessness. But primarily the visual impression is said to be phenomenal. Watching the planet makes you realise just how vulnerable it really us and reminds you that we should do something to safeguard the future of Mother Earth."
Ex-Space Shuttle astronaut Searfoss says it will be a relaxed event, which will pose no real physical challenge and will not require passengers to be in particularly great shape. He says passengers will not experience anything more challenging than what jet pilots experience in their planes. “I have done this many times and it’s really no big deal.”
[The lead picture shows Dutch model Doutzen Kroes, expected to be one of the earliest passengers]