Call it an ego trip of the highest order.
Billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson recently headed for space, rocketing to the heavens on their respective flights, leaving behind onlookers feeling a mix of awe and envy.
Count me as one of those earthlings — I, who grew up on “Star Trek” and “Doctor Who,” who wished I, too, could leave COVID-19, climate change and the current political climate behind.
Bezos blasted into space Tuesday, July 20, in part to fulfill a childhood dream of his, but he made it there not as a NASA astronaut like Neil Armstrong, who became the first man to walk on the moon nearly five decades earlier — to the day — but Bezos flew on a private spacecraft.
When Blue Origin launched into space last week with its founder Bezos, his brother, an 82-year-old aviation pioneer and a teenage tourist, the passengers were in some ways remarkable for how unremarkable they were in that none aboard were NASA astronauts.
In fact, there were no test pilots or flight engineers for the flight from West Texas carrying the four private citizens who the sub-orbital spaceflight services company called “commercial astronauts.”
Blue Origin expects to fly two more crewed flights this year, with more crewed flights planned for next year, according to its website where those interested in securing a seat aboard a future flight can sign up — just maybe not with Bezos, the founder of Amazon, aboard the next trip.
Bezos became the second billionaire in just over a week to ride his own spacecraft, which was entirely automated (by Alexa?) unlike Branson’s Virgin Galactic rocket plane that required two pilots to get the Englishman to space on July 11 near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
Yes, the duo of daredevils have now traveled where so few of us can claim, and they have the ultimate small talk gambit now for parties and corporate functions — “Yeah, I was in space once. It was a blast.” But when the hype dies down, the rest of us wonder “What about me?”
In the race for commercial space travel business between them, how much would it cost me on a pittance of a reporter’s salary to “touch the face of God,” how long would I have to save to afford it? (The answer is “To infinity and beyond!” as Buzz Lightyear would say in “Toy Story.”)
First of all, not all modes of space travel are equal. Whereas I would prefer the “Beam me up, Scotty!” method of instantaneously hopping in and out of places made popular by “Star Trek,” I realize that it probably won’t be in my lifetime where that bit of science fiction becomes science fact.
Blue Origin used a crew-containing capsule mounted on top of a rocket. The spacecraft traveled three times the speed of sound. When it reached an altitude of about 45 miles, the fuel-carrying booster was shut down, and the capsule was released and reached a height of 62 miles.
The Virgin Galactic spacecraft also surpassed the 50-mile altitude recognized as the boundary of space by NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration, but another aircraft had to carry it about 45,000 feet before a rocket engine carried the then-released spacecraft into space.
Space tourists may experience minutes of weightlessness, but the reported cost of $250,000 per Virgin Galactic passenger probably will keep most people grounded in the near future and aborting their flights of fancy or hopes of meeting a logical, pointy-eared, green-blooded Vulcan.
Blue Origin plans to charge passengers about $200,000 to $300,000, two people familiar with its plans told Reuters in 2018, but with gasoline prices reaching almost $3 a gallon, one can only imagine how much the cost of rocket fuel has gone up in the intervening years.
Whether I choose Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic, it just might come down to which gives me the most passenger legroom — or a free headset to plug into my armrest, so I can blast Richard Wagner's soul-stirring “Ride of the Valkyries” or Nicki Minaj's “Starships (Were Meant to Fly).”