Comment If you want to spend a few minutes in free fall and get a view few others have seen in person, Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin space tourism venture has set its price for just such an experience – $1.4m (£1m) or best offer.
Earlier this month Blue Origin announced it will auction off a seat on a July 20 trip beyond the Kármán line, the 100km or 62-mile point above sea level that is a recognized boundary between Earth and space. Following a round of sealed bids, the minimum you now need to offer is $1.4m, and Blue Origin warns it's had a lot of interest.
"We’ve seen more than 5,200 bidders from 136 countries," the space rocket biz told The Register.
The final auction for one of the seats on the flight will be held on June 12. Should you win, what will you get for your money? Well, not much as it turns out.
You'll be sharing a capsule, atop a Blue Origin booster, with as many as six people – presumably that includes some folks who know how to operate the thing. The craft will be taken beyond the Kármán line whereupon the capsule will detach. After three minutes of free fall, and presumably a lot of selfies and possibly not a little vomit, the capsule will return to Earth using parachutes and landing rockets.
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Free fall experience is relatively easy to come by. Commercial outfits, such as the Zero Gravity Corporation, will give you more time floating around than that offered by Blue Origin for $6,700 plus tax, albeit in short bursts. That's achieved using parabolic flights to allow people, Stephen Hawking and at least one Reg hack included, to float around the cabin as though they were in space.
But that's not really what Blue Origin is selling. It's giving people an ultra-rare view of the Earth from high up. And, most importantly one suspects, the bragging rights to call yourself an "astronaut."
And that's down to a scientific equation. The Kármán line was proposed as the border between the point where atmospheric flight is impossible and space flight begins. But there's a huge difference between that and the profession, or even the expensive hobby, of being an astronaut.
Professional astronauts are people who dedicate their lives to the quest for space. They are usually highly skilled in multiple professions – piloting craft, multiple-language proficiency, engineering, software skills, science and/or medicine. They eschew higher-paying roles that their skills could win them and wait years for the chance to get into space and do something useful in the void.
The International Space Station pioneered space tourism, where those who had enough cash could buy themselves some time in orbit, but even then visitors need three months of training before they could make the jump some way out of the gravity well and onto mankind's extraterrestrial outpost.
Blue Origin, and Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, are working on a different model. If you're the right height and weight, can get yourself in and out of a seat, then you're pretty much good to become what is technically an astronaut.
It's the equivalent of calling yourself a hunter when you sit in a covered hutch and shoot those feeding on bait, or a racing driver because you bought some track time. Let's call it what it is: space tourism.
Of course, the companies involved are careful to avoid the T word. But for all intents and purposes, it's a fairground ride for the 0.1 per cent. One wonders what good that money could do if was used to solve problems here on Earth or develop serious ways to get us off this rock.
An increasingly resource-hungry world is starving in the midst of plenty. We are surrounded by resources in orbiting space rocks and planets to plunder that could solve humankind's resource problems.
Maybe space tourism will provide some of the funds to do this, but your humble vulture has his doubts. This looks more like a roller-coaster for the super-well-off, a carnival for the mega-rich. ®