Mike Massimino
Veteran NASA astronaut Mike Massimino (right) poses for a photo with "The Big Bang Theory" actor Simon Helberg and another actor during a break from filming the season finale of CBS' Big Bang Theory.
updated 7/13/2012 7:31:21 PM ET 2012-07-13T23:31:21

Friday the 13th proved to be lucky for at least one fan of the popular TV sitcom "The Big Bang Theory." The hit CBS sitcom gave away a high-flying prize — a free trip to space — at the Comic-Con festivities in San Diego.

While fans lined up for a panel discussion with the stars of "The Big Bang Theory," silver envelopes were given out. One of those envelopes held a golden ticket for a free suborbital ride aboard a space plane being developed by Mojave, Calif.-based XCOR Aerospace.

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"With our friends @BigBang_CBS, just gave a lucky fan a Lynx flight! Congrats Mercedes Becerra, you're going to spaaaaaace! #WBSDCC," XCOR Aerospace announced via Twitter. Becerra was identified as a resident of Paso Robles, Calif.

Here's how it all went down: XCOR test pilot Rick Searfoss, a former NASA astronaut, appeared on stage to offer the suborbital ride to one of the show's actors, Simon Helberg, who declined the opportunity. Helberg's character on the show, Caltech engineer Howard Wolowitz, was launched into space in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in the last episode of the fifth and most recent season.

The TV series' co-creator and executive producer, Chuck Lorre, then suggested that the ride be given instead to the holder of the golden ticket.

"We are so proud and grateful to be part of this adventure," Lorre said later in a news release issued by XCOR and Warner Bros. Television. "The Big Bang Theory, boldly going where no sitcom has gone before!"

XCOR's suborbital space plane, called Lynx, is designed to carry a pilot and passenger to the upper reaches of the atmosphere — and eventually to altitudes exceeding 62 miles (100 kilometers), the internationally accepted boundary of outer space. XCOR is one of several companies developing suborbital vehicles for commercial space tourist flights.

The two-seater Lynx will be able to take off and land on a conventional airport runway, and the reusable space plane will be capable of making four flights per day, company officials have said.

XCOR is aiming to begin space tourist flights aboard Lynx in 2013. Currently, tickets for the suborbital ride sell for $95,000 per person.

This report was updated by msnbc.com. Follow Space.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

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Video: Company unveils new vehicle for space tourism

Explainer: Ten high-profile players in the commercial space race

  • Image: Obama at KSC
    Jewel Samad  /  AFP — Getty Images file
    US President Barack Obama walks past a main engine of a shuttle as he arrives to speak on the new course the administration is charting for NASA and the future of US leadership in human space flight at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on April 15, 2010.

    When NASA's space shuttle fleet retires in 2011, the space agency will have to rely on Russian spacecraft and the private sector to taxi cargo and humans to and from the International Space Station, even as it turns its focus to the technologies required to send humans beyond low-Earth orbit.

    President Barack Obama views the policy as a boost to the nascent commercial spaceflight industry, where competition is already heating up to supply the taxi services. Some companies are also talking about offering out-of-this-world rides for researchers as well as tourists with deep pockets and a serious case of star lust. Click ahead to check out 10 of the top players in the race to commercialize space.

  • Space Exploration Technologies

    Image: Falcon 9 launch
    CollectSpace.com
    SpaceX's Falcon 9 rises from its launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Friday, sending a test capsule into orbit.

    PayPal co-founder Elon Musk has already signed up NASA as a marquee account for his high-flying venture, Space Exploration Technologies, also known as SpaceX. The government has a $1.6 billion contract with the Hawthorne, Calif., company to provide unmanned cargo deliveries to the International Space Station starting in 2011 with its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule.

    This image shows the successful test launch of the Falcon 9 rocket on June 4. The rocket will eventually carry the Dragon to orbit. If all goes according to plan, astronauts may get a lift as well, starting in 2013. SpaceX has also secured contracts to launch next-generation satellites for the telecommunications company Iridium.

  • Orbital Sciences

    Image: Orbital Sciences
    Orbital Sciences

    Another NASA contract — this one worth a reported $1.9 billion — is in the bag at Virginia-based Orbital Sciences, which is planning to supply the International Space Station with its unmanned Cygnus spacecraft, shown here in an artist’s rendering. A newly-developed Taurus 2 rocket will ferry the cargo ship to space. If the opportunity presents itself, the company may advance plans to ferry humans to orbit as well.

  • Boeing

    Image: Space capsule
    Boeing
    Boeing is hard at work on the research and development of a new space capsule aimed at flying people to the International Space Station.

    Boeing, the aerospace giant, has unveiled plans to flesh out designs and build a new capsule-based spaceship called the CST-100, which will take cargo and passengers to the International Space Station. The development push comes thanks to an $18 million NASA grant.

    The Apollo-like capsule will carry a crew of seven and be designed to launch on a variety of rockets, including the Atlas and Delta rockets operated by the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture known as the United Launch Alliance, as well as SpaceX's Falcon. Extra seats may be made available for paying passengers through a marketing arrangement with Space Adventures.

  • Masten Space Systems

    X Prize Foundation via AP
    This photo shows the Masten Space System rocket XA-0.1B, also called "Xombie" launching from the pad, traveling 50 meters above the ground at the Mojave Air & Space Port. Mojave, CA on Oct. 7, 2009.

    While big NASA contracts have already gone to big names in the commercial space industry, lesser-known Masten Space Systems is in the race to pick up taxi fares to the International Space Station as well.

    The company won a $1 million lunar challenge prize with the Xoie spacecraft shown here. It is now working on a next-generation vehicle based on the vertical-takeoff-and-landing design to ferry cargo. NASA funding will go toward four test flights of the spacecraft, called Xaero.

  • Sierra Nevada Corporation

    Image: Sierra Nevada Corporation
    Lewis Geyer  /  Times-call

    The reusable Dream Chaser space plane, under development by Sierra Nevada Corp. subsidiary SpaceDev , has a look and feel reminiscent of a mini-space shuttle. Like NASA spacecraft, a rocket lifts the space plane up — and at the end of its mission, the plane lands on a runway.

    In fact, the transportation system is based on NASA technology, and the company recently received $20 million from the space agency to continue the plane's development. A full-scale mockup of the plane is shown in this file photo from its unveiling in 2006.

  • Bigelow Aerospace

    Image: Bigelow Aerospace
    Bigelow Aerospace

    Entrepreneur Robert Bigelow padded his bank account by building a hotel chain, Budget Suites of America. His latest pioneering venture, Bigelow Aerospace, is aimed at building affordable habitats in space.

    Two prototype inflatable capsules have already been launched, and plans are in the works to put the more expansive Sundancer space station, shown here in an artist's conception, in orbit by 2015.

    In this case, the overnight guests may include national space agencies as well as private-sector researchers and thrill-seeking tourists. Other players in the commercial space sector would taxi guests to and from the puffy digs.

  • Blue Origin

    Image: Blue Origin
    Blue Origin

    Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, who amassed a fortune selling the printed word online, has few words to share about Blue Origin, his commercial space venture to fly a vertical launch and landing rocket to suborbital space.

    This much is known: A demonstration vehicle called Goddard, shown here in a file photo, successfully took off and landed in 2006 from the company's private spaceport in west Texas. It's not yet known when the company's commercial vehicle will be ready for a public unveiling.

    A bit more info: NASA recently awarded the company $3.7 million of a $50 million pie that it says is for the "development of system concepts, key technologies, and capabilities that could ultimately be used in commercial crew human space transportation systems." Blue Origin is concentrating on the development of a launch escape system that could push a NASA capsule to safety in case of emergency.

  • Virgin Galactic

    Virgin Galactic
    The Virgin Galactic suborbital spaceliner SpaceShipTwo makes its first crewed flight on July 15, 2010 over the Mojave Desert in California.

    Space enthusiasts with $200,000 to burn can book a ticket to ride to outer space with Virgin Galactic on the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft. The plane, meant for tourism as well as research, will haul six passengers and two pilots on suborbital flights that pop into outer space for a few minutes before returning to Earth.

    The aircraft was designed by aerospace engineer Burt Rutan and colleagues at Scaled Composites. Test flights of the spacecraft, which launches from the WhiteKnightTwo mothership, are under way. Ticketholders will get their opportunity to ride once all systems are a go.

  • Armadillo Aerospace

    Image: Armadillo future spacecraft
    Armadillo Aerospace

    Would-be space tourists who balk at the price tag for a ride on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo might consider another option in the offing: $102,000 for a seat on Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace's vertical takeoff and landing vehicle.

    The spacecraft, shown in this artist's conception, will rocket passengers into outer space for about five minutes of weightlessness and 360-degree views. Tickets can be booked through Space Adventures, the same company that has arranged rides to the International Space Station for the super-wealthy.

  • XCOR Aerospace

    Image: XCOR Aerospace
    XCOR Aerospace

    Yet another option for the space tourist is a $95,000 trip up to the inky blackness at the edge of space in XCOR's Lynx rocketship. The spacecraft, which has room for just one pilot and one passenger riding shotgun, takes off horizontally from a runway and climbs steeply to 200,000 feet, where views abound of planet Earth and the stars. Advance reservations for the hour-long trip can be booked through space tourism company RocketShipTours. An artist's rendering of the rocketship is seen here.

Photos: Comic-Con 2012

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  1. 'Sons of Anarchy' panel

    Actors Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal and Ron Perlman speak at the "Sons of Anarchy" panel at Comic-Con on July 15 in San Diego, Calif. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 'Supernatural' panel

    Actors Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki and Misha Collins speak at "Supernatural" panel during Comic-Con. (Albert L. Ortega / Getty Images ) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 'Fringe' stars

    Writer J.H. Wyman, actors Joshua Jackson, John Noble and Lance Reddick speak at the "Fringe" panel at Comic-Con International. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Comedy moguls

    Seth MacFarlane and creator Mike Henry speak at "The Cleveland Show" panel during Comic-Con. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. 'Once Upon a Time' starlet

    Ginnifer Goodwin attends the "Once Upon A Time" panel at Comic-Con. (Jonathan Leibson / Getty Images ) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 'Iron Man 3' panel

    Robert Downey Jr. and Don Cheadle speak at Marvel Studios' "Iron Man 3" panel at Comic-Con. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Fans and civilians

    Costumed fans and uncostumed pedestrians alike nar Comic-Con on July 14. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Not quite politicians

    Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis speak at Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures preview of "The Campaign," in which the two comedians play rival politicians, at Comic-Con. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. 'Pacific Rim's' Hellboy

    Ron Perlman, known for his turn as Hellboy in Guillermo del Toro's films, speaks at the "Pacific Rim" panel at Comic-Con. (Jordan Strauss / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Fantasy land

    A fan dressed as Batman sits with a snarky sign and 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire' in hand. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. An excited 'Hobbit'

    Elijah Wood speaks at the "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" panel at Comic-Con Saturday, July 14. (Jordan Strauss / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Old West

    Guests attend "Django Unchained" Old West Town at Comic-Con. (Joe Scarnici / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. 'Django' star

    Jamie Foxx is interviewed on the red carpet for the film "Django Unchained" at Comic-Con. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Zombie lady

    A fan participates in ''Zombie Walk: San Diego'' at Comic-Con on Friday, July 13 in San Diego. (Joe Klamar / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Meth stars

    Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston speak at AMC's "Breaking Bad" panel at Comic-Con on Friday, July 13. (Mark Davis / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Eye am weird

    A uniquely dressed fan sits outside of Hall H at Comic-Con. (Denis Poroy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. 'Big Bang Theory' panel

    Actresses Mayim Bialik and Kaley Cuoco with Jim Parsons via satellite speak at the "The Big Bang Theory" panel at Comic-Con. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. 'Total Recall' panel

    Jessica Biel, Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale attend the "Total Recall" panel at Comic-Con. (Jordan Strauss / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Damon's 'Elysium'

    Matt Damon speaks during Sony's "Eylsium" panel at Comic-Con. (Albert L. Ortega / Getty Images ) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Tusken Raider

    A fan dressed as a Tusken Raider from "Star Wars" at Comic-Con. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. 'Looper' stars

    Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt at a panel for "Looper" during Comic-Con. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. 'The Walking Dead' stars

    Norman Reedus, Laurie Holden, Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan and Danai Gurira speak at AMC's "The Walking Dead" panel during Comic-Con on Friday, July 13th. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Hunting for Comic-Con

    A fan dressed in flannel and hoisting a rifle attends Comic-Con in San Diego, Calif., on Thursday, July 12. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. 'Archer' screening

    Actress Aisha Tyler speaks onstage at the "Archer" Screening and Q&A at Comic-Con on Thursday. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. TMNT fan

    A fan with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the Nickelodeon booth at Comic-Con. (Joe Kohen / Invivion for Nickelodeon via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Stars of 'Nikita'

    Actors Maggie Q and Shane West attend "Nikita" during Comic-Con International 2012. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Eyes on the prize

    A fan dressed as Superman rides the escalator to an event at Comic-Con. (Denis Poroy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Comic-Con funny people

    Sarah Silverman and John C. Reilly attend Disney's "Wreck-It Ralph" panel at Comic-Con. (John Shearer / Invision via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Thumbs up

    Fans dressed as a random group of movie and comic book characters take photos at Comic-Con. (Denis Poroy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. An experienced auteur

    Director/producer Tim Burton, known for "Edward Scissorhands" and "The Nightmare before Christmas," speaks at the "Frankenweenie" panel at Comic-Con. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Ladies of Oz

    Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis attend Disney's "Oz: The Great and Powerful" panel at Comic-Con. (John Shearer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Master of martial arts

    Action star Jackie Chan and Laura Weissbecker speak at "CZ12" panel at Comic-Con. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Comic-Con 'Nightmare'

    A fan dressed as Sally from Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas" at Comic-Con. (David Muang / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. 'Twilight' panel

    Actors Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Foy and author Stephenie Meyer speak at "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2" Panel at Comic-Con. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Movies on Demand lounge

    Actors Nikki Reed, Peter Facinelli and Elizabeth Reaser attend the Movies On Demand lounge at Comic Con. (Chelsea Lauren / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. 'Expendables 2' stars

    Actors Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger talk during a presentation of the soon to be released movie, "The Expendables 2." (David Muang / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Comic-Con heads to Tatooine

    Fans dressed as "Star Wars" characters at Comic-Con International. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Power Ranger

    Actor Paul Schrier attends "Power Rangers: 20 Years and Beyond" during Comic-Con. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. "Star" fan

    A fan dressed as a "Star Wars" Storm Trooper at Comic-Con's Preview Night on Wednesday, July 11. (Albert L. Ortega / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Young Thundercats

    Fans Declan and Athena dressed as characters from Thundercats for the opening preview night of Comic-Con in San Diego, Calif. on July 11. (David Muang / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Plastic and super

    A man photographs plastic figurines on opening preview night at Comic-Con in San Diego. (David Muang / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Dressed to thrill

    Fans attend Comic-Con's opening preview night in San Diego. (Denis Poroy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Bat-fan

    A fan dressed as Batman arrives at Comic-Con's opening preview night. (Gregory Bull / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Ready for a show

    Costumed fans arrive at Comic-Con's opening night. (Denis Poroy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Colorful display

    A heavily-painted fan greets another Comic-Con goer on opening preview night. (Denis Poroy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Point and shoot

    A man photographs figurines on the opening preview night of Comic-Con. (David Muang / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Applying the finishing touches

    Jenny Harlow applies makeup to Nick Bane as they wait to enter Comic-Con in San Diego on Wednesday, July 11. (Gregory Bull / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Trolling Comic-Con

    Fans walk past huge Stone Troll figures from the "Lord of the Rings" at the Comic-Con opening preview night. (Denis Poroy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Abraham Lincoln: Photo hunter

    Russel Brown, dressed as Abrahama Lincoln, poses for photos at Comic-Con. (David Muang / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. Throw-back

    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costumes are still in vogue at Comic-Con. (Jerod Harris / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: "Sons Of Anarchy" Panel - Comic-Con International 2012
    Kevin Winter / Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (50) Comic-Con 2012
  2. Image:
    Y. Beletsky / ESO
    Slideshow (12) Month in Space: January 2014

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