Monday, October 29, 2007

New Mexico draws spacey folks

By Carol Gee

New Mexico has been the place to view some of the most spectacular thunderstorms you can see. It has been the locale for all things spacey for the past few days. The X-Prize competition took place at Holloman AFB. People interested in personal space flight met at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Museum for a couple of days before the competition. Though I must say that NASA TV's coverage of the Space Shuttle Mission STS-120 has been the locale here at my house. And Roswell, New Mexico is the home of all the UFO space alien stories.

Visitors to space appear - Not long ago, I posted about Malaysia’s first astronaut/participant, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor who visited on board the International Space Station. And last week the Third International Symposium for Personal Space Flight met October 25-25 in Las Cruces, NM. Guest speakers included another former space flight participant Anousheh Ansari and NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Allegria. The Ansari family has long been a supporter of the X-Prize competition, also held this week in New Mexico.

X-prize Cup - CNET News has the lead story, with a good summary of the latest happenings in that beautiful southwestern state. The headline reads, "X Prize Cup brings outer space to New Mexico;" from which I quote:

Space entrepreneurs plan to exhibit a host of new technologies this weekend at the Wirefly X Prize Cup, in hopes of fueling a new age of rocket tourism and entertainment.

Rocket didn't rock - Dr. Robert Goddard, the father of American space flight, spent years and years living with rocket launch failures before he was able to achieve his ultimate amazing successes. And it is still a very difficult thing for private enterprise to pull off. had the most recent story, headlined, "Lunar Lander Challenge Ends in Fire, Disappointment." To quote:

The rocketeers at Armadillo Aerospace, thwarted by engine problems and other mechanical failures, left this year's X Prize Cup empty-handed after their spacecraft burst into flames on liftoff Sunday.

Despite the difficulties, NPR's Doug Fine explored the question yesterday, "Is budget space travel just around the corner?" Right now only the richest people such as Ansari and Sheikh Shukor can buy a ride to space from the Russians. But a private company seems well on the way to serving more customers, though still at a steep price.

"Rocketplane Global Overhauls Suborbital Craft," according to a story at, from which comes this quote describing the potential passenger experience:

Here's the flight plan for suborbital customers: The Rocketplane XP would take off from the runway at the Oklahoma Spaceport, scooting into the air just like a conventional business jet. The craft jets itself into climb mode, flying to a little over 40,000 feet. At this point, the spaceship's pilot ignites the craft's powerful rocket engine, pulling up into a nearly vertical climb for soaring into space.

As the vehicle arcs over, all onboard will experience three to four minutes of weightlessness – along with an incredible view that only a small, select group of people have ever seen.

Within minutes, the descent begins. Under the load of several Gs pushing passengers down into their seat, they are on a unique space roller coaster ride. The XP's specially designed thermal protection system transfers away the heat of re-entry, permitting safe, slow travel toward terra firma.

. . . How much will a flight on the Rocketplane XP slap your wallet or cause you to dig deep into your purse? At present, the standard rate after the first 50 Founder Flights is $200,000 per seat. That up front, right seat next to the pilot, is at a premium ticket price of $250,000 – given the wrap-around windows to gaze through, Lauer said.

The cat's pajamas - Not to be outdone with private space ventures, we now have the first space suit. See it at "The Free-Fall Collection: First Commercial Spacesuit Debuts at X Prize Cup."

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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