• Aug. 11, 2005 |
4:45 p.m. ET
Want to take a moon ride? If you've got the money, Space Adventures and its Russian partners say they'll be ready to show you around as soon as 2008. But it will cost you $100 million, and the closest you'll come to the lunar surface is 62 miles (100 kilometers).
We've discussed the round-the-moon venture on more than one occasion , but Wednesday's announcement in New York filled in a few more of the details behind the scheme. It would take five and a half days to go from Earth orbit to the moon and back. You could go on a "Direct Staged" mission, in which your craft would rendezvous with a booster module in orbit for a total of nine days in space; or an "ISS Staged" mission, which would include a stopover of up to two weeks at international space station, for a total of up to 21 days.
Space Adventures says it could eventually branch out to offer lunar-orbiting or even lunar-landing missions in cooperation with the Russians. The company has set up a new Web site, DeepSpaceExpeditions.com, to publicize what it's calling the DSE-Alpha mission, complete with a video animation summarizing the flight plan.
Will there be a market for round-the-moon flights and even riskier, more expensive space tours? Here are some of your opinions on the subject:
Ray King, Bensalem, Pa: “If I had the money, and my doctor says I'd survive the ‘G's’ on take-off and landing – yes, I would go! What a fantastic journey so few have made, and I would be more anxious to see the earth as we return!”
Kerri, Blanchard, Okla.: “I think it is absurd! There is a reason why astronauts are put through so much training and education before venturing out to explore space. It does not seem fair or safe that money can buy you a ticket to the moon. And I don't think there is any amount of money or fame that I would spend on risking my life.”
Allison Rae Hannigan, Sammamish, Wash., authorized sales agent for Zero-G: “The price tag is about the size of producing a big movie these days. My bet would be on some form of media company buying one or both seats, producing a combined movie/documentary/interactive web experience. Why not James Cameron or Tom Hanks or Ron Howard or Jodi Foster or someone like that turning this into an opportunity to not only get the ride of their life, but also to sell the experience to a global market thirsty/hungry for a taste of space exploration, vicarious as it may be? The media rights to this flight would be owned by the funder(s) and, properly exploited, could potentially offset the price tag (production costs) and even, gasp, make a profit from the experience. I say more power to Space Adventures and the Russians for coming up with this idea. Why isn't U.S. space policy more focused on opening up space to non-professional astronauts?”
Wade Whitlock, Aberdeen, Md: “More of this drivel? Come on, now! Let's consider this dispassionately. With such a mass market (500 to 1,000 people) how can they fail? How many of these would be too old to withstand the accelerations, the confined space and the lack of minions, much less the knowledge that the cold equations of physics (and the Laws of Murphy!) held sway and all their money couldn't do a damn thing if things went south? Many of these people may also be bound by contracts prohibiting such activities, either that or their stockholders may tie them up if they are considered a vital resource (wouldn't want to hit the stock's value, would you?). So, what are we down to? Four or five? Hardly much of a market, is it? Not Heinlein's 'The Man Who Bought the Moon' universe at all.”
Eric Lynn: “Concerning trips around the moon: Yes! If I had the cash I would definitely do it. I believe that there may be millions of people who would love such an opportunity. Of course, as you mentioned, not many can afford it. I would like to see this heavily, yet tastefully (is that possible?) marketed. I think many people don't even see such a thing as a possibility. If the only way to get people interested in leaving Earth is through crass commercialism then so be it. Humans seem to have lost some of their pioneering spirit. Something like this might rekindle it.”
Mark J. Gallagher, Tulsa, Okla.: “You wrote that Apollo 13 was the last moon mission. There were four successful missions after Apollo 13.”
I actually wrote that Apollo 13 was the last mission to take a figure-8 loop around the world without stopping. The four missions that followed – Apollo 14 through 17 – successfully stopped over on the moon before returning to Earth. My apologies for phrasing my observation like the answer to a trick question.
Joe Latrell, Beyond-Earth Enterprises: “The space community has a knack for looking at the smallest possible markets with limited chance for continued growth. While I agree that a lunar trip would fall under the ‘way cool once in a generation’ activity, reality sets in quickly. The actual market size coupled with the danger of the trip means maybe two people on the entire planet would have the means, the passion and the dedication to go. These people would most likely be single, otherwise the family ties would tend to keep most would be candidates grounded.
“If the technology can be worked out, and if a few rich people will sign up, and if they are healthy enough to go, and if the logistics work out, then maybe this will work. To me it looks like another ‘announce it way before it is possible for the awe factor’ space program.
“Do I believe it will happen? Yes. Do I believe in manned space travel? Yes. But the industry keeps shooting itself in the foot be announcing the fantastic then not delivering on the promises before people just stop paying attention.
“My apologies for the rant. Space needs some focus and some drive, not just marketing hype.”
• Aug. 10, 2005 |
1:25 a.m. ET
Moon trips marketed: Would you seriously consider paying $100 million to take a trip around the moon? As previously reported , the Russians were serious enough to make the offer last month — and now the same company that has put two millionaires in space is serious enough to try marketing the idea.
Virginia-based Space Adventures is announcing today that it will offer the round-the-moon package (without an actual lunar landing) for two riders on a beefed-up Soyuz spacecraft, piloted by a Russian cosmonaut. Some well-heeled adventurous types already have expressed interest in going on the trip, according to a preview in The New York Times (registration required).
Space Adventures spokeswoman Stacey Tearne indirectly confirmed the company's involvement to MSNBC.com by referring to last month's anniversary of the first moon landing as well as the Russian round-the-moon reports while spreading the word about today's scheduled New York news conference.
Russia's Federal Space Agency and the Energia rocket company would provide the hardware for the journey, which the Times said could last for 10 to 21 days, depending on whether the itinerary included a stopover at the international space station. The plans for the flight sound very much like the Lunar Express concept that was put forth months ago by Constellation Services International.
The Russians have said the moon rocket could blast off 18 months after a deal was made. But will anyone actually buy the tickets?
Space Adventures' president and chief executive officer, Eric Anderson, told the Times that 500 to 1,000 people in the world could afford to go. Whoever goes could become as well-known in the history books as, say, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders. But it wouldn't be luxury accommodations by any means, due to the Soyuz's relatively cramped quarters.
Moreover, the new moon riders would be taking on some huge risks, considering that the Russians have never sent humans beyond Earth orbit. After all, even Apollo 8 was no picnic, and it could be worse: The last time humans made such a figure-8 loop around the moon without stopping was during yet another mission that put Lovell in the history books, Apollo 13 . And we all know how close that came to disaster.
We've discussed this before , but here's another chance to weigh in with your opinion: How big do you think the market would be for a $100 million lunar ride? Consider, too, that NASA's typical space shuttle mission costs four to eight times as much. Will the first humans to see the moon up close in the 21st century be exclusively government-paid professionals, or will that voyage include passengers who are actually paying the bills?
When researchers tried that in Antarctica's McMurdo Dry Valleys, they found that microbial mats that had been freeze-dried for two decades came back to life.
Diane McKnight, a researcher at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said she and her colleagues diverted water from an active streambed to another one that apparently had dried up about 20 years earlier, based on an analysis of the microbes' chemical composition as well as aerial photographs of the region.
"These mats not only persisted for years when there was no water in the streambed, but blossomed into an entire ecosystem in about a week," McKnight reported in a news release issued today. "All we did was add water."
McKnight discussed more than a decade's worth of experiments with the microbial mats at the Ecological Society of America's annual meeting, held this week in Montreal.
The results are intriguing on at least two counts: First, scientists consider the Dry Valleys a handy analog for the extreme Martian environment — and second, the microbes involved were cyanobacteria, which often turn up among the likely suspects for the earliest life forms on Earth.
Studies like these get the blood flowing for astrobiologists who wonder whether microbial life could persist in a dormant state somewhere beneath the surface, perhaps wetted occasionally by water seeping through the soil. Such scenarios are a standard feature of the discussions at the Mars Society's annual conference, which is being held this week in, of all places, the University of Colorado at Boulder.
• Aug. 9, 2005 |
8 p.m. ET
Family matters: There's been a death in the family, and I've had to rush back to Iowa for the sad proceedings. As a result, Cosmic Log postings will be suspended until the end of the week.
• Aug. 9, 2005 |
8 p.m. ET
Scientific smorgasbord on the World Wide Web:
• Science News: Easy striders
• NASA: First podcaster in space
• PhysOrg: Quantum information can be negative
• N.Y. Times (reg. req.): Explaining memories of Martians
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