Jan. 20, 2012 at 9:27 PM ET
More than a decade after the first effort to blend reality TV with real-world spaceflight, talent-show impresario Simon Cowell says the winner of "Britain's Got Talent" could go into outer space on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane.
"I love the idea that if they are up for it they have the option of performing in space," Cowell told Britain's Daily Star. The comment comes as Cowell is ramping up for a new season of the show that inspired "America's Got Talent."
Cowell has already signed up for his own flight on SpaceShipTwo, which could start flying passengers beyond the 100-kilometer (62-mile) boundary of outer space on $200,000 suborbital rides as early as next year. The longtime record producer, who left an enduring mark on reality-TV history as the black-garbed, brutally frank judge on "American Idol," hinted that he's worked out a deal with British billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic.
"It's tens of millions of pounds, but Richard genuinely is up for doing it," Cowell told the Star. "I am being serious, I swear to God and on my mum’s life. Don’t worry about the details, we’ll make it happen."
If Cowell is to make it happen anytime soon, the winner would most probably have to travel to New Mexico to follow through on the flight plan. And it seems unlikely that going into space would be a requirement placed on the winner, whoever he or she turns out to be.
Producers have tried for years to put together a reality-TV show focusing on spaceflight. The highest-profile effort was "Survivor" executive producer Mark Burnett's plans in 2000 for a show that would follow contestants through the training routine for spaceflight. The winner would have been sent to Russia's Mir space station — but that concept fizzled out even before Mir was deorbited in 2001.
Other proposed entertainment projects have revolved around pop singer Lance Bass and film director James Cameron. Just last week, Beyonce and Jay-Z were said to be interested in doing a music video aboard SpaceShipTwo.
No Hollywood space effort has yet gotten off the ground, but if anyone has the required combination of guts, glitz and gold, I suppose that'd be Branson. Like Cowell, Branson is a veteran of reality TV, having starred in "The Rebel Billionaire," a series that aired on Fox in 2004-2005.
Who knows? In the next year or two, there may be more than one way for reality-TV contestants to get into outer space. Andrew Nelson, chief operating officer for XCOR Aerospace, says his company is moving ahead with its own Lynx rocket plane — and he's not shy about courting Cowell's attention.
"If Simon wants to take a more exciting ride at half the price, I'd take his call," Nelson told me today.
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Alan Boyle is msnbc.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.