Sunday, April 15, 2007

What do you think you get for frequent flier miles?

Have you guys heard about the Rocketplane XP? Being built by a private company in Oklahoma, made up of a shadowy bunch of ex-aerospace industry guys (one had experience on the SR-71 blackbird program and has done contracts for DARPA, the secret hi-tech defense guys) and political hacks (a bunch of ex-NASA guys, and the chairman of the board is a two-time Republican Convention Delegate), the Rocketplane should be lifting off sometime in late 2007 or early 2008 carrying four suckers who pay $250,000 to go 100 kilometers into space and experience weightlessness for 3-4 minutes.

The technology looks neat, if somewhat limited in its application. It's pushed by two conventional turbofan jet engines, and one kerosene-fueled rocket engine related to the Atlas Rocket engines. Only 43 feet long (smaller than a 8 person private jet) this puppy will get to Mach 3.5, reach a minimum apogee of 34 miles, upside down so you can look out the roof and see Mama Earth, and then land at a normal airfield in unpowered flight mode (ie, you're gliding... Yeah, that sounds fun.).

Anyway, they've got a fairly developed website where they solicit your requests to be separated from a quarter million of your hard earned money. They've got some interesting schematics of some of the technological features of the craft, some which raise more questions than provide answers.

For example: The ventilation system is designed to provide clean, dry air to the cabin, contains a chemical scrubber to remove CO2, and is specially designed to filter out "any foreign items such as dirt, hair, or vomit that may be released in the cabin".

Umm...

Okay.

I can see some concern about vomit. That makes sense; you're going to be pulling 3-4 G's, and that may trigger a re-run of lunch. And dirt, well, sure, whatever. I mean, I would assume they're not doing the whole clean room thing that made John Kerry look like such an ass when he visited NASA, but I would be concerned if they're expecting too much dirt. Maybe they should vacuum more often. And, you know, "dirt" is sometimes a euphemism for something else, something a little more squishy than what we usually think of as dirt, but instead of counting on a filter to take that stuff out of the air, maybe they should just take a tip from this person, and issue each passenger their own Depends.

It's that middle thing on the list that's giving me a little problem. Hair? They're expecting hair to be released in the vehicle? Maybe they are expecting to have Lisa Nowak (from link in that last paragraph) and want to protect against the stray public hairs that come loose during groovy zero-G lovemaking. And you new know when Clarence Thomas may make a reservation and you'd hate to have a repeat of that whole "who put a public hair on my diet coke" thing.

Of course, this isn't the only way you can get into space. Over at Space Travellers you can book a flight on a Mig-25 Foxbat. That baby'll get you 15-20 miles up, about the right height to see the curve of the earth and high enough that you're wicked screwed when your assembled - by - disgruntled - commies - after - vodka - break aircraft falls apart.

By the way, "travellers" isn't a typo. The folks who run the website can't spell, but they can send you into space. Go figure.

Anywho, there are a number of adventures to be had from the old Soviet space program, but not that flight to the International Space Station Lance Bass was supposed to take a bunch of years ago. You can though, for the price of either $5.50 US$ or $5,500 (again, these guys should hire an editor, it would give me a little more confidence in their abilities) book a trip to Kazakhstan this October to watch the liftoff of a Soyuz rocket bound for the ISS.

For that dough you get accommodations at a 3 star hotel (I'm guessing it's no worse than the Day's Inn in Durham, NC), and all "transportations" in Moscow and Star City (the old Soviet kosmodrome in Bakinour, Kazakhstan (including "economy class" airfare from Moscow to Baiknour... Economy class Russian airlines? Boy, that sounds fun...)

You also get to watch preparations and training, and have a special seat in the VIP section of the stands watching the liftoff. Again, this is Russian space technology we're talking about here, so remember to bring your umbrella to deflect flaming chunks of rocket should the thing blow up on the pad.

Oh, by the way, handicapped folks need not apply, as the homebase for the pinnacle of commie technology doesn't have any elevators.

Me, I'll stick with driving fast and watching Borat again today, thank you very much.

4 comments:

Harmonica Man said...

Dude - if I was rolling in the dough I would so sign up for this. Especially since they have a vomit extractor.

Gino said...

but what is the carbon footprint of this new gizmo?
with all this warming taking place, we need to be concerned about pollutants.

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