Oh, to be a billionaire. They seem to have all the fun. When Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, launched his Unity 22 rocket plane, he went where few have gone — into space on his own spacecraft.
He beat fellow billionaire, Jeff Bezos, to the punch. The flight helps buoy the push for commercial space travel. Start saving now, because a ticket to the edge of Earth might cost $250,000.
Before you drain your retirement account, consider that the Federal Aviation Administration is barred from creating safety regulations (until 2023) for commercial spaceflight systems. So, once you sign the “informed consent,” you are pretty much taking the risk that comes with taking a brief ride a few dozen miles above Earth. Scared of heights? Read on.
The spacecraft flies on the edge of space, at an altitude of more than 50 miles. Passengers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth before landing.
These suborbital joyrides are not for the weak of heart. It is for adventurers who have the will — and money — to blaze a new trail, take a chance at making history and see the Earth from a vantage point that most will never experience. The promise is that “no one comes back unchanged.” OK, sounds about right. Or maybe no one comes back “unhinged.” I mean, just because you might afford it doesn’t mean you should do it.
Yet, humans love to explore. It is what we do. The feat that Branson pulled off, was a rather posher version of one that was achieved 60 years ago by a Soviet carpenter’s son, Yuri Gagarin. In that groundbreaking space flight, Gagarin spent 108 minutes in flight, compared to the hour that Branson and his crew were in orbit. Still, the achievement is tremendous and may be more incredible now because of Branson’s landing. No dropping into the ocean in a capsule. True progress sometimes takes a few decades.
Many folks have been critical of the “billionaire space races.” Citing concerns about “wasting resources” when we have bigger problems to solve, such as climate change, poverty, 1 billion people with no clean water to drink, wars and social injustices. These are but a few of the “planet issues” that plague us and need solutions.
Branson and Bezos are not apologizing for launching into space, saying the future is “out there” for Earth’s inhabitants. Perhaps. If you want to get in one of those snazzy spacesuits and not spend a fortune, you can enter a lottery for $10 (proceeds go to charities) and win the trip of a lifetime. Branson will select two lucky people to “ride for free” on his next space launch. My husband, Doug, and I are signing up. (I haven’t told Doug yet).
Bored with the mundane pull of gravity and usual Earthly views? Look up, dear readers. The universe awaits. As Richard Branson says, “This was my lifelong dream to go into space. For the next generation of dreamers, just imagine what you can do.” Dream big. Fasten your seatbelt. Fly high. Billions not required.
Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local Realtor. Have a story or a comment? Email Judy at email@example.com.