Thursday, January 24, 2008

I Want To Be an Astronaut When I Grow Up

Traveling across the universe is becoming more realistic than ever. Guess what, I get to go.

The Wings of Honneamise (1987). I remember when I saw this anime movie when I was 10. I came out of the movie theater and I told my dad "Dad, I'm going to travel outside the earth some day." The movie wasn't even about the space... it had a short scene of a spaceship flying around the earth's orbit. But somehow my curiosity got struck by it. It has been one of my wildest dreams to go out to outer space and take a glance at the earth. This was only possible in fantasy novels, cartoons or movies... until recently. An UK company Virginia Galactic (wiki), which has been developing the world's first commercial spaceship for the last few years, finally announced on January 23, 2008 that its latest model SpaceShipTwo will be ready to take civilians to space as early as 2009.

SpaceShipTwo, the latest working model created after successful tests of SpaceShipOne, will be operated by 2 crew members and can hold up to 6 passengers. SpaceShipOne will be taken to the altitude of 15 km (49,000 ft) above the ground by its mother ship called WhiteknightTwo. At that point, rocked boosters of SpaceShipOne will ignite and go as high as 100 km (330,000 ft) above the ground to go beyond the boundary of space. In 2.5-hour flight, passengers will then experience 5 minutes of zero-gravity flight.

5 minutes sounds too short, you might say. Not to me. How many people on this earth throughout the history of mankind have been outer space and seen the entire plant earth? Only handful of people who trained their ass off to be astronauts (*salute to them*). But now the chance of getting a once-in-a-life-time experience is going to be available to an ordinary civilian like me. I may even get to see the moon without interruption of the atmosphere. I can only imagine it would be a breath-taking scene. Only 5 minutes of space travel? That's 5 minutes longer than anyone around you or 99.99% of the entire population of living things ever existed on this planet in the last 5 billion years. Only 5 minutes? Damn right, 5 minutes of impeccable, indisputable, unbelievable, irreplaceable awesome experience! Besides, it's not the weightlessness I want to experience anyways. I just want to see the earth (that, you can see much longer than 5 minutes).

About 60% of SpaceShipTwo's construction has been completed, and they are planning to test it at some point this year and make it ready to launch the first space tour as early as 2009. Over 200 people have already made a reservation. Current cost of the "ticket" is about $200,000 at the moment. Did I get turned off by this figure? Hell yeah. There's no way at this moment I can come up with this kind of money. However, Virgin Galactic is planning to reduce the price down to $100,000 in the next 5 years, then to only $20,000 down the road. Tour companies in 15 countries have already signed a contract with Viginia Galactic and making a flight reservation is not complicated. This sounds to be much more affordable and feasible. How can I not be excited about this!?

I am going to outer space someday. I must and I will.

Maybe in 20-30 years, this may not even be a big deal. Until then, I'll keep my dream as one of my goals.

Clips from Virgin Galactic

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