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Cost for space view is out of this world

December 14, 2009

o If you like reading Tim Rowland, you'll love watching him. See what else Tim has to say

How much would I pay to see Earth from space? Depends. Do I have to come back?

Virgin Galactic is hoping that wealthy tourists will pony up the $200,000 ticket price for a ride into space on its newly minted SpaceShipTwo, starting in 2011. With dedication and hard work, it's hoped that "space journeys could be come as routine as air travel."

Routine as air travel? That's a lot of money for the privilege of sitting on the tarmac for six hours, eating bad food, losing your luggage and having some homeland security lackey confiscate your deodorant.

Still, I was ready to start saving up, until I learned the trip is a brief 2 1/2 hours up and back. Two hundred grand for 2 1/2 hours? That's the worst net result on gross investment of cash since Eliot Spitzer.

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The jaunt gets you up to 65 miles, at which point, The Washington Post reports, you can see the curve of Earth. OK. But can't Sarah Palin already see that from her house?

And you get to experience weightlessness -- for five minutes. That's barely enough time to plant some tomato seeds, or whatever it is those scientists do when they're floating around in the space station.

To get it straight, the ride is about as far from here to Gaithersburg, Md. I might pay $200K not to be forced into going to Gaithersburg, but this is beside the point.

The point is that you get to tell your friends that you traveled into space and the service was sooo horrible, and your luggage was held over on Mars and the mints they gave you on the descent really could have been better, and so forth.

"But what did the blue planet look like from 65 miles up?"

"Well, you could see the curve. And it was blue."

Yes, I know it would be spectacular, and part of me is just bitter that it's something I'm unlikely to be able to participate in, so I'll have to settle for Google Earth, which is really not the same.

Developers of flight, however, say that by comparison, the flights will be incredibly cheap.

"NASA spent billions upon billions of dollars on space travel and has only managed to send 480 people," Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson told the Post. "We're literally hoping to send thousands of people into space over the next couple of years. We want to make sure that we build a spaceship that is 100 percent safe."

OK, safety I get, especially with such a well-heeled clientele. You don't want a "ground control to Major Tom" situation if you've got Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands on board. That would be my luck -- shell out 200 grand for the privilege of being rear-ended by a piece of Soviet-era space junk.

Although given the economy of late, I didn't know there were still "thousands" of people with extra cash on hand. Four years ago, you might have had a bunch of folks deciding between a new conservatory for their mansion and a ride into space, but now most of them are eating canned tuna. Space? They're lucky if they can afford Space Mountain.

And I don't know how impressed we should be by knowing that private space travel -- or anything -- is going to be more efficient than the federal government. That's a bar that you don't have to travel 65 miles to reach.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video under opinion@herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 at 6:30 p.m. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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