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Mike Bukach

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Mike’s Next Adventure

Space Invaders: Tourists in Sub-Orbit.

Lady #1: “Well, we’re going to vacation in Palm Springs for a week, then down to New Mexico – blasting off to Space for two weeks in our sub-orbital time share. Have you been?”

Lady #2: ” Of course! Space is uh-mazing! Don’t you just love it?  Marv got a pamphlet last week on the Tiger Woods’ Lunar Course Sir Branson’s building on the moon.”

Waiter: “Ladies, another Tom Collins?”

Ladies, together: “It’s five o’clock somewhere!”

In unison: “Hahahahaha.”

Get ready. It’s going to happen. The conversation above will be as common as the nausea inducing, New Yorker/Hamptons resident’s snoot-mantra, ‘Where do YOU Summer?”. Snow birds will become star birds. The uber-wealthy will push the boundaries of extreme vacationing. People will start driving RVs across the Milky Way. Too Sci-Fi for your taste? It’s already happening.

In 2001, Dennis Tito became the first private citizen in space, hitching a ride with two Russian cosmonauts aboard the Suyoz TM-32 heading to the ISS-EP space station. Tito was refused training by NASA, who, to paraphrased said, “You can’t handle this sh*t, citizen.”, so Mr. Tito went through an astronaut’s work-out (with complementary 80’s montage) through privately owned; Space Adventures Ltd.  The Suyoz TM-32 docked with the ISS two days after launch, orbiting the earth a total 128 times spending just under 8 days in space. Final bill for Tito’s trip: 20 million U.S. dollars.  To be fair, Tito has studied aeronautics most of his life providing his incite to take part in important scientific research aboard  the ISS (like the highly pertinent ‘watch my face when I try to eat floating jello’ test), and has rigorously defended himself a space ‘researcher’, not a space ‘tourist’.

Since 2001, six more private citizens have punched through the Earth’s atmosphere, the price tag rising steadily as economy seats to space have become less available. In 2009, Guy Laiberte, owner and CEO of Cirque du Soliel paid a reported 35 million for his trip to space through Space Adventures Ltd., which seems a bit steep for this humble blogger’s pocket-book. Adding my bank account, assets, 401k, 1982 Donruss Cal Ripken rookie card…I’m still give-or-take 35 million dollars short. (I obviously don’t own Cirque du Soliel, but if I did, there would be choreographed, aerial light-saber fights in every show). Going to space is highly overrated anyways…

I have about the same chance of riding into space as being ‘Freshly Pressed’ by my gracious hosts, but there is monetary hope for a pauper like me as Space Tourism becomes more prevalent, and competitive. I emailed Space Adventures inquiring about prices for a seat on one of their orbital flights, and never received a response. Perhaps it was the text colloquialisms of my email subject, ‘Q-pons 4 ur flights 2 space’

Per the website (Space, Space Adventures Ltd offers a sub-orbital flight for a measly $110,000 dollars. Highlights include:

  • Viewing the Earth from Space
  • Flying 62 miles above the Earth
  • Experiencing weightlessness
  • Participation of the birth of the space travel industry (sounds messy)
  • A complementary dvd of your flight, with a private soundtrack by David Bowie (unverified)

Here’s a 3-d animation of what the $110,000 will get you – starring a bearded Ryan Gosling and Hilary Swank’s evil twin.

Hopefully they remove the fuel truck when it comes time for the real launch.

[Quick price comparison – A 2 month trek to the (not guaranteed) summit of Mount Everest is about $65,000.]

Competing with Space Adventures is Sir Richard Branson’s newest endeavor; Virgin Galactic – a commercial sub-orbital passenger-line based out of the Guadi-esque Spaceport America in New Mexico. Virgin Galactic has a nifty website with a lovely three-minute video of  self-congratulatory speeches from the president of Galactic, and a charming moment where CEO Richard Branson repels off the roof of Spaceport, misfires on a Champaign cork dumping bubbly all over his harnessed lap (website link). They can get you to space, but still can’t figure out Champaign corks, or the mysteries of bra hooks! (Get it? Virgin? I try I try)

Unlike Space Adventures’ precarious looking pod-thingy, Virgin’s spaceship is a sleek, odd-looking double glider that flies up to 50,000 feet, then unlatches the middle shuttle which rockets you about 350,000 feet (65 miles-ish) above the Earth at 3,000 mph. You get to experience weightless for a few minutes, float about the cabin, take pics, and plummet (safely, of course) back to Earth.  

I emailed two of Virgin’s ‘Space Agents’ – feigning ignorance to the shiny PDF full of information listed on the Galactic website – asking three pertinent questions: 1. Will there be beverage service? 2. Is Christopher Walken going? 3. How the hell do I become an Accredited Space Agent?. Neither agent responded.

Guess which Space Agents I emailed?

Virgin has a purported 430 ‘astronauts’ scheduled for space trips from  early 2012 through 2014. At a cost of $200,000 a piece ($20,000 deposit), Branson will be raking in around 86 million dollars; not a staggering amount of money considering overhead, R&D, testing, space ships (astronaut food), but as popularity gains traction, the Space Tourism industry will inevitably boom on a global level.

For example, in 2016 Russian owned Orbital Technologies will finish the first ever Space Hotel, where up to seven guests can stay in one of four orbiting cabins. Cost of flight and five-day stay:  $165,000 for the hotel, $800,000 for the flight. Check out some more info/amazing pics from Popular Science LINK

Orbital Technologies, and Space Adventures both plan to start commercial flights around the dark side of the moon soon after the Space hotel is complete, with the estimated  circumlunar ride costing $100,000,000. Space X is also joining the race to space, attempting to take over what NASA left behind, and is now testing private (commercial) flights to carry cargo/supplies/astronauts to the ISS station. I’m sure they’ll leave a seat or two open for the commoners.

"Yes, hello? Houston? Can you send up a bucket of ice?"

The concept of privatized space travel opening to mass consumerism is both frightening and exciting, especially when the proposed projects have tangible deadlines. No longer are  launch dates twenty, thirty years into the future, they’re right around the corner; they’re this year. Unlike the dead-in-the-water NASA program, the entrepreneurs backing these ventures have unwavering amounts of cash flow to siphon into their space programs. And I admit, I would partake in a second if prices fall within reach. Heck, I would sell a part of my beer battered liver to do a sub-orbital flight, or wear a PBR advert on my face to stay in a freaking space hotel (*waits patiently for call from PBR).

The negatives to a rejuvenated space race are pitted on those responsible for its inception. If space tourism becomes an political-ego-war amongst privateers and various countries, it will get messy fast, and lead to the inevitable building of an empirical Death Star. On the other hand, if things go smoothly, we’ll soon have  Lonely Universe’s Guide to Mars (a Hitchhiker’s Guide knock-off), the ladies at the opening will be able to stay at that sub-orbital time share, and I can finally indulge in my life-long dream of eating Dippin’ Dots in space.  – Mike

What is worse: Death Star or Time Shares? Would you fly to space? How much would you be willing to pay? Let me know!

7 comments on “Space Invaders: Tourists in Sub-Orbit.

  1. Ziggy with a Neck says:

    Stop emailing me.


    Accredited Space Agent – Candian Division – Outpost 320


    1. mabukach says:

      Ha! It’s frightening how well you know me, Zig.


  2. Jason says:

    I wish I had won Mega-Millions! No doubt my ass would be on Saturn by now….


    1. mabukach says:

      Or Uranus…sorry, I had to.


  3. Nathaniel Hahn says:

    Dippin’ Dots in space…now that is a Bucket List item! Great read Mike, totally out of left field. I wonder where you do get Qpons for space rides? If I had $110K lying around I would probably go out and get some investors to back that amount and bring a few friends…perhaps convince Michael Keaton…or Fred Savage to take the trip with me. Can you imagine the conversations Batman would have with Kevin Arnold. I can! And to listen while weightless in space. I have a dream…


    1. mabukach says:

      One delicious dot at a time.
      I COULD imagine a convo between Batman and Kevin Arnold, but instead of Fred Savage’s voice, it’s Daniel Stern’s.


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