Lift off of their lifetimes: New York's space tourists
For adventure journalist Jim Clash, 55, slapping 10% down on a $200,000, 2.5 hour trip to sub-orbital space for a mere six minutes of weightlessness caps a lifelong passion for the final frontier.
Clash, who grew up in the era of epic duels between the Russian and U.S. space programs, has flown supersonically in a Russian MiG-25 Foxbat and an Electric Lightening aircraft and interviewed John Glenn and Neil Armstrong. The Upper West Sider hopes to find a sponsor who will pay him to write about his space flight. But even if he doesn’t, he won’t regret depleting his retirement fund.
Virgin Galactic’s space trek “is the ultimate,” in adventure travel, mooned passenger number 610, who reckons he will lift off in 2013.
Galactic has already accepted $45 million in reservations for the SpaceShipTwo trips, scheduled to begin in late 2011 or early 2012. About a dozen of the first 390 people to have signed up are New Yorkers, according to a company spokesperson.
Mark Patterson, 58, chairman of a Manhattan equities firm, paid $200,000 “years ago” to insure he would be in the first 100. “I like scarcity. Being amongst the first 100 – that is what was appealing to me,” said the Bronxville financier.Patterson, who has socialized with some of his fellow space tourists on Richard Branson’s getaway on Necker Island and at a NASTAR G-force flight-training program, said that most are, like him, “fairly extreme characters.” One 80-year-old and escaped as a kid from the Treblinka concentration camp. A woman from the Southwest mortgaged her house to scrape up the fare.
Patterson, a PADI-certified scuba diver, white-water kayaker and “moderately advanced” race car driver who has seen his two sons through college and his retirement secured, will be traveling with a fellow race car enthusiast. It never occurred to him to invite his wife of 36 years, Elena, along. “She doesn’t shoot guns or go white water kayaking: She’s an artist,” Patterson explained.
As for travel insurance, “no one knows how to insure this,” because no actuarial tables for space flight exist, said Patterson, who was vetted for suitability for space flight by a screener who asked him lots of personality questions. If that is your primary concern, said Patterson, “you probably shouldn’t be going.”
The cash-intensive trip is likely to be so nasty, noisy, brutish and short, flying coach will seem like luxury. A mother ship blasts the craft, which carries eight people, two of whom are pilots, 50,000 feet up. The rocket releases and blasts up to the rim of space, allowing passengers to float around for about six minutes while ogling the curvature of the earth.
Forget carry ons. Every ounce increases drag, said Clash, so it’s unlikely passengers will be able to schlep laptops.
On the bright side, it is unlikely that passengers will be subject to body scans or genital frisks: Government, Patterson noted, has yet to be regulate tourism in space.
In one respect, however, planning travel to space is not all that different from making reservations with a regular airline. Orbitz was out of the question, so Patterson called Virgin Galactic direct. “It took a lot of calls to get someone to answer me,” he recalled.