Flying to the Moon: Cheaper Than Running for Governor of California

The San Jose Mercury News looks at space tourism today. Some interesting excerpts:

Space Adventures has already sent eight paying passengers into space using Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and Google co-founder Sergey Brin has placed a $5 million down payment and is first in line for a future flight into orbit. Now, the company is advertising a trip around the moon for two paying passengers, something the company’s president, Tom Shelley, says could happen in three to four years. At $100 million a seat, a trip to the moon is a bit steep, but it’s less than one Silicon Valley tycoon spent trying to get to Sacramento.

[Editor’s Note: This last bit is a reference to former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who spent in excess of $160 million — most of it her own money — in a failed bid to become California’s governor. Don’t feel too bad for her, though; it was just a bit over 10 percent of her net worth.]

Space Adventures is also working with a Texas company, Armadillo Aerospace, to develop a rocket that would carry private passengers on a suborbital trip like Virgin Galactic’s, and Shelley said the company has more than 100 reservations at $110,000 a trip. A third company, Blue Origin, which is bankrolled by founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, is also working on a suborbital passenger rocket.

“We hope to beat Virgin to it, but that’s part of the fun at the moment,” Shelley said. “This is now really hard cash that is going into these projects, where people will start to fly on those vehicles in the next few years. Is it one year? Is three? Is it five? I don’t know. But there is an inflection point where these ideas have got the money they need in order to succeed.”

Armadillo is doing pretty well for a company that doesn’t have a vehicle to show yet. Of course, it’s not clear how much people are plucking down for a reservation. Virgin Galactic requires a minimum of $20,000 down, with that figure rising on a tiered basis for those who want to be among the first to fly. They also invite ticket holders to various events, some featuring Richard Branson, and cross-sell their airline flights and vacation packages to the wealthy clientele.

It’s also interesting to see that Space Adventures’ lunar space tourism joy ride remains three to four years away. This is pretty much where it’s been since it was announced many years ago. One wonders if the company is waiting for customers to sign up or simply waiting for Soyuz vehicles to become available.