“At 338,000 ft, the forward motion slows as the craft reaches parabola. The harness slackens as you begin to rise from the seat. Microgravity. Your arms float out away from your body, and the sense of falling creeps at he edge of consciousness. Out the cockpit windscreen is blackness, stars, and arcing below- the curvature of the Earth, on a continental scale…”
A contest to win a flight aboard a suborbital spacecraft is currently being advertised by the Urgency Network. Donations toward any of a number of non-profit organization through their website can earn you points toward the grand prize of a ticket to fly aboard the XCOR Aerospace Lynx II spacecraft. The contest website is here: https://www.urgencynetwork.com/space
This far from the first contest to advertise a spaceflight prize. There have been more than a dozen companies and contests in the last few years the held similar campaigns. The most famous example was the “Axe Apollo” contest by Axe body spray and SXC, a space tourism broker. Several years ago, at the Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference (NSRC), each of the conference participants was entered in a drawing to win a flight with XCOR. (The gentlemen sitting at the table next to me won it, initially.)
XCOR is a “Newspace” company that stands to profit from the fledgling space tourism industry. The company is designing and building a small, 2-person suborbital spaceplane that can be utilized to carry passengers or payloads. Unlike the approach Virgin Galactic is using with its SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle, XCOR’s Lynx will takeoff from a runway like a standard aircraft. Under rocket power, the craft will ascend to an altitude over 100 KM -the internationally recognized boundary of space- before gliding back to land like NASA’s space shuttle once did.
One of the beneficiaries of this contest is a unique organization known as Astronauts4Hire. As stated on the website: “Astronauts for Hire is a 501(c)(3) non-profit formed in April 2010 to recruit and train qualified scientists and engineers for the rigors of spaceflight. Commonly referred to as “Astronauts4Hire” or just “A4H,” the organization conducts a range of activities related to commercial astronaut workforce development. A4H’s principal service is to train its members as professional astronaut candidates who can assist researchers, payload developers, and spaceflight providers with mission planning and operations support”
Have I mentioned that I’m a member of A4H?
Although the Lynx can’t achieve orbit, the vehicle offers a chance for researchers to fly scientist-astronauts or experimental payloads on a suborbital trajectory. Organizations like A4H and NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program hope to use this ability to conduct space science. Compared to the cost of orbital vehicles, flying a payload on a suborbital vehicle is a frugal option. Suborbital vehicles may also offer a quicker “turn-around” time between launches when compared to the complex and lengthy preparation required for traditional rockets.
These features will help make suborbital spacecraft an ideal platform for commercial space operations. This is the cornerstone of the nascent space tourism industry. The ability to regularly and rapidly fly paying customers inexpensively as possible is what will turn science fiction into capitalistic fact. There is a market- both virgin Galactic and XCOR, through SXC, have sold over a thousand ticket between the two companies. (VG tickets are $250,000 and SXC are $100,000 a seat) The prices are, for lack of a better term- astronomical. Easily within the reach of many affluent adventurers but certainly outside the limitations of my income.
What is an aspiring astronaut to do? (Anything he can.)
Space tourism is a good thing. It is going to make it possible for people to see and experience spaceflight, something that has been limited to just over 500 people in all of human history. ticket sales will lead to profits which in turn lead to vehicle development and one day hopefully newer forms of transportation. Some have called it the “democratization of space”, making it possible for the “everyman” to see what only “supermen (and women)” have seen.
I would happily hand over hundreds of thousands of dollars to fly aboard a spacecraft. Unfortunately, my federal service paycheck will never allow that to happen. So I have signed up for every contest I’ve been eligible for to win one these exclusive tickets to space. I received a great deal of support when I was competing in the Axe Apollo contest (For which I’m very grateful). But, as you can tell, I still have not won a coveted ticket. The odds are against me, of course. But I’m still very interested in trying.
So I may sign up foe the Urgency Network “Ticket to Rise” contest. Aside from my personal desire, the money would go to A4H, an organization that I believe to doing a great deal to open up the space frontier. (I applaud anyone who donates to this worthy cause.) But unlike other contests which feature a game of chance, I could easily be outbid by a more affluent contestant. I cannot personally afford to outbid the other contestants. I would have to relay on donations to stay competitive . (How many of you would bid for my cause?)
Barring some unforeseen windfall of luck and dollars it seems my best open is still through skill and talent. Being a space tourist is nothing to be ashamed of, who wouldn’t want to ride a rocket? But there is something to be said for being crew. Even if I were in a position to be passenger on a suborbital flight, I’d take the opportunity to solicit for payloads and maximize the public outreach. It would seem a waste to me to do otherwise.
Regardless, I will continue to work toward opportunities to fly as a researcher or payload specialist on suborbital mission. Developing my education and finding research projects to work with will be my method. Through organizations like A4H, the chances of flying in space are better than ever. It’s not an impossible dream.