Tag Archives: Space Tourism

Space Tourists Get Ready for 2018 Launch

Space Tourists Get Ready for 2018 Launch

Ladies and gentlemen, strap yourselves in because Kansas is about to go bye-bye – Blue Origin is ready to send paying travelers into space by 2018 and Boeing is convinced that people will get to Mars on its rockets. But first, an explanation on this quote from The Matrix: by “Kansas” we mean this pale blue dot we live on and by “bye-bye”, we are referring to US President Barack Obama’s announcement that the US government will partner with private industry to send people to Mars. As for the “about to” part, well that is harder to pin down, depending on if you mean just space travel or getting to Mars.

Speaking of which, this story is partially inspired by the ExoMars spacecraft from Europe and Russia, which are about to make history over the Red Planet. The Schiaparelli lander may have already made planetfall by the time you read this. [Update: News sites are confirming that Schiaparelli did indeed crash on Mars, smashing into the surface at 300kmh]

At the same time, coincidentally, China sent its first crewed mission to the Tiangong 2 space station at 2330 GMT, October 16 (the taikonauts have successfully docked with the space station and will spend 30 days aboard). The next day, October 17, the delayed launch of Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket went ahead successfully, marking the first flight of the Antares since October 2014. It is indeed a good time for space exploration! And now, back to our regular programming (we’ll update on this Mars mission and the Tiangong 2 mission right here).

The timeline given by Obama mirrors closely Elon Musk’s own Mars pledge; Musk wants us on Mars by 2030 (his precise arrival year is 2025) and the US government puts it down as the 2030s (NASA plans to get to Mars in 2034). That’s his SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket pictured above by the way.

Now that Blue Origin, another one of those private enterprises the US presumably wants to work with, has successfully tested its in-flight escape system, it seems all systems are go to send the most precious cargo of all into the Great Beyond – us. Ok, we are still talking about low-earth orbit here but this is the kind of trip that has the potential to change your life forever – even it is only hypersonic flight. If we can send people into space reusable rockets or vehicles, we could potentially send them anywhere in the world within 45 minutes. In the aforementioned Blue Origin test for example, both the capsule and the booster rocket survived intact.

Space Tourists Get Ready for 2018 Launch

Blue Origin’s New Shepard space vehicle can reach an altitude of around 100km and exceed Mach 3

As for that actual Mars journey, the next step will be NASA’s own plans and, by extension, what the United Launch Alliance (that’s Boeing and Lockheed Martin) are doing. NASA is developing a powerful rocket known as the Space Launch System (SLS) and a deep space capsule, Orion, expressly to get that mission to Mars off the ground.

The ULA, for its part, is convinced we could send hundreds of intrepid explorers into space, using currently available technologies. This means that people could be living and working in the space between the moon and earth in the next 30 years or so. To go beyond this space, NASA thinks we need the SLS.

The first launch of the SLS – with no people on board – is planned for 2018. A US mission to send humans into the area of space beyond the Moon, but not as far as Mars, is planned for the 2020s. This trip is clearly meant to lead to the Mars trip because, billionaire enthusiasm aside, lots of practical questions have to be answered before we can risk such a trip.

Space Tourists Get Ready for 2018 Launch

© JIM WATSON / AFP

“I’m excited to announce that we are working with our commercial partners to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space,” Obama said in a written essay posted by CNN.

“These missions will teach us how humans can live far from Earth – something we’ll need for the long journey to Mars.”

The issue of getting enough food and water into space to feed astronauts on a months or years-long mission to deep space has been a key logistical problem, and little research has been done to show how this might work. Also, as we have noted repeatedly, space travel is extremely expensive, with some estimates putting the cost of sending a group of three to six to Mars at between $80 billion to $120 billion.

Ever since taking office eight years ago, Obama has said the United States wants to send people to the Red Planet, Earth’s neighbor, by the 2030s so everything from Musk’s target and Obama’s latest statement are nothing new. Also, China…

Musk also said SpaceX would send an unmanned vehicle to Mars in 2018 – that’s the Dragon 2 craft – so again there are parallels between private and public enterprises here. We wouldn’t make too much of these connections though because any Mars-bound trip, from any earthly power – private or public – has launch windows to take into account. You can’t just blast off to Mars at any old time, you see. Just as the mariners of old had to consider prevailing winds and such, we too have to mind certain limitations.

Elon Musk Presents Bonkers Mars Mission

SpaceX chief and visionary billionaire Elon Musk unveiled this week ambitious (we call it bonkers) plans to establish a Mars colony within a decade or so. Briefly, Musk thinks this is possible if we send 100 humans at a time on massive spacecraft, possibly costing as low as $100,000 per person. Yes, that’s the low estimate because by conventional NASA standards, using current technologies, it will cost $10 billion per person. This is why we normally think of space tourism as the most expensive form of travel known to humans.

Taking the stage under a large globe of Mars at the International Astronautical Congress, Musk showed his vision for a giant rocket that would propel people to the Red Planet “in our lifetime.”

“We need to go from these early exploration missions to actually building a city,” he said to an overflow crowd at an expo center in the western Mexican city of Guadalajara.

Musk showed a futuristic video depicting his concept of an interplanetary transport system based on reusable rockets, a propellant farm on Mars and 1,000 spaceships on orbit, carrying about 100 people each.

The spacecraft would have a restaurant, cabins, zero-gravity games and movies. “It has to be fun or exciting. It can’t feel cramped or boring,” he said.

Musk later told reporters he was “optimistic” that the first human mission could leave Earth in 2024 and arrive on the Red Planet the following year.

Before that, SpaceX plans to send an unmanned Dragon cargo capsule to Mars as early as 2018.

The South Africa-born Canadian-American entrepreneur said the plan would require a “huge public-private partnership,” but he did not announce any alliance with a government agency.

The first flight would be expensive but the aim is “making this affordable to almost anyone who wants to go,” by dropping the price of a ticket over time from $200,000 to $100,000, Musk said.

“You can’t create a self-sustaining civilization on Mars if the ticket price is $10 billion per person,” he said. It could also be deadly.

“I think the first trips to Mars are going to be really, very dangerous. The risk of fatality will be high. There is just no way around it,” he said. “It would basically be, ‘Are you prepared to die?’ Then if that’s ok, then you are a candidate for going.”

While SpaceX was hit by a setback on September 1 when its Falcon 9 rocket, after several successful missions and vertical landings, exploded on the launch pad during a test in Florida, Musk said “this is just a small thing on a long road.” SpaceX is not alone in aspiring to travel to Mars.

The US space agency NASA, which is studying the effects of long-term space flight on the human body, has announced its own plans to send people to Mars by the 2030s.

Blue Origin, a company founded by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, also envisions a Mars mission, but decades from now.

Costly, challenging

Experts warn that reaching Mars – 225 million kilometers (140 million miles) from Earth on average – and living there requires major engineering feats and a massive budget.

John Logsdon, professor emeritus at George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, said Musk’s presentation was “long on vision, short on detail.”

Musk did not explain in detail how he would get the “billions of dollars that would be required to put the vision into reality.”

The plan also faces technical challenges, such as refueling in orbit, which has never been done, and building fuel depots on Mars.

Chris Carberry, chief executive of Explore Mars Inc, a non-profit promoting the goal of sending humans to the planet within two decades, said a mission of just three to six people would cost between $80 billion and $120 billion.

Musk’s presentation is “very inspiring, aspirational, but I think it’s going to be very challenging to be able to accomplish this in 10 years.”

“I think it’s probably more likely we’re going to send a smaller mission to first figure out if people can live on Mars before we send 100 people there at a time,” he said.

Musk said the rocket would take a spaceship into orbit, release it and land back on Earth to pick up a fuel tanker, which it would fly to the craft to fuel its journey to Mars. The trip would one day take as little as three months, or even less than one month.

Once on Mars, humans would have to install a plant to produce propellant by using the planet’s methane resources to fuel the spacecraft for its return to Earth.

Space competition

SpaceX has achieved engineering breakthroughs, notably by successfully landing the Falcon 9 upright, which could cust space travel costs by making rockets reusable.

Blue Origin has also built a rocket that lands vertically and is working on a taller launcher called New Glenn, but the company is focusing on sending people to Earth’s low orbit for now.

“We want to have millions of people living and working in space in a decades timeframe if they want to,” Blue Origin president Rob Meyerson told AFP.

VSS Unity completes its first flight test

Virgin Galactic Soars on Test Flight

We love the idea of space tourism here, hence we avidly follow SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, which returns to the news with a successful test flight. Two years after a fatal accident, we were very pleased to read the reports of Virgin Galactic’s newly built craft completing a four-hour test flight over the Mojave desert, without incident.

The craft in question, the VSS Unity is the first spaceship built by the company’s manufacturing arm. Though it soared to over 50,000 feet, it is too soon to get excited if you were hoping of booking a ticket and becoming a space tourist. Yes, this reminder applies to us first and foremost!

Even if Virgin described the flight as an “Emotional and fulfilling moment for our hardworking team,” the flight was a ‘captive carry’ exercise meaning that the VSS Unity never undocked from its mothership, VMS Eve.

Virgin’s system for launching craft into space involves two ships, one to reach the upper limits of the atmosphere and one that breaks away from it and reaches for the stars.

Therefore there is still a mountain of data to collect and a battery of further tests that need to be completed before the company can come close to its dream of offering members of the public space travel.

However, today’s successful flight should be seen as the first step on that journey.

In other surprise related news, Blue Origin announced a test of its emergency escape system, in place aboard the New Shepard vehicle. Scheduled for October, this escape system will allow the crew to separate from their rocket booster in the event of unforeseen difficulties after launch.

Of course, we are also interested in these bits of space news because of the personalities involved, who are some of the world’s most recognizable and inspirational billionaires. Virgin Galactic is run by Sir Richard Branson while Blue Origin is a Jeff Bezos company. SpaceX is an Elon Musk venture.

Moon Express wins approval for lunar lander

First Private Lunar Trip Approved: Moon Express

US startup company Moon Express said last week it had received approval from the government to send an unmanned lander to the moon in 2017, in a first for private industry. The trip is estimated to cost $25 million and promises to be the most expensive private travel venture of all time – well at least until SpaceX confirms its Mars mission.

Until now, only the governments of the United States, the Soviet Union and China have sent spacecraft to the surface of the moon. Commercial spacecraft have flown within the bounds of Earth’s orbit. According to Quartz, Moon Express is the first company to seek and receive approval to do business beyond near-Earth orbit. Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are the pioneers here and at least two of those have plans for the solar system at large, including the aforementioned Mars mission, scheduled for 2018. For now though, Moon Express has eclipsed everyone.

“We are now free to set sail as explorers to Earth’s eighth continent, the moon, seeking new knowledge and resources to expand Earth’s economic sphere for the benefit of all humanity,” said Bob Richards, co-founder and chief executive of Moon Express.

Why does the company even want to go to the moon? Even the superpowers of Earth view (or viewed) it as a strategic goal, for national pride and such. Well, the Google Lunar X-Prize is still in play and Moon Express has a shot at it. To win the $30 million prize, a private company would have to land a probe on the moon, have it travel at least 500 meters on the lunar surface and transmit HD video from said surface back to Earth. Here’s a look at the teams still in the running, from Space.com.

If you do the math there, it seems there could be a $5 million payday for Moon Express if it succeeds, a roughly 20 percent return on the initial investment. The company also told the New York Post that it might be willing to transport human ashes for $3 million per kilogram. Not a bad business case there, all in all, but we prefer to think Moon Express might have bolder plans. Apparently, so did US authorities.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced its approval last Wednesday, following consultations with the White House, State Department and the US space agency NASA. This announcement also clears the air, so to speak, on any other ventures to the ultimate in foreign bodies as Moon Express seems to be alone. Perhaps more importantly, this clears the way for other private organizations.

Moon Express, based in Cape Canaveral, Florida, was founded in 2010. It has yet to finish its moon lander (called MX-1), which will be carried in late 2017 by a rocket made by Rocket Lab, another startup, which has not yet launched any commercial missions.

“The sky is not the limit for Moon Express – it is the launchpad,” said Moon Express co-founder Naveen Jain, describing the government approval as “another giant leap for humanity.”

The company’s goal is to develop low-cost spacecraft and to explore the resources on the moon, he said. “In the immediate future we envision bringing precious resources, metals and moon rocks back to Earth.”

Virgin Galactic Reveals New Spaceship

Some 16 months after the fatal crash of the Virgin Galactic commercial spacecraft, the space tourism company owned by British billionaire Richard Branson revealed a follow-up February 19. SpaceShipTwo is the rather bland name for this ambitious effort, although the new model spacecraft is reportedly called VSS Unity.

The big reveal Friday marked the beginning of a testing phase for the SpaceShipTwo, and the company underscored that commercial space flights would not be available until Virgin Galactic was satisfied it could carry them out safely.

“As we celebrate the end of one critical phase of work, we also mark the start of a new phase, one focused on further testing and, ultimately, the first commercial human spaceflight program in history,” Virgin Galactic said in a statement.

The new spaceship, which largely looks the same as its predecessor, made its debut in a ceremony at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. It was towed into a hanger by a white Range Rover SUV, with Branson standing in the sunroof and waving.

It was dubbed the “Unity,” a name chosen by renowned physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, Virgin Galaxy said in a tweet.

The company’s goal is to take customers to the edge of space, more than 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth.

Despite the hefty $250,000 price tag, more than 600 would-be astronauts have already signed up, including Hollywood actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Ashton Kutcher.

However, the company’s efforts faced a major setback when the first version of the SpaceShipTwo disintegrated over California’s Mojave Desert on October 31, 2014, with investigators blaming premature brake deployment during the test flight.

The pilot was injured but successfully deployed his parachute, while the co-pilot was killed.

“It’s not an easy business. If it was an easy business we wouldn’t only have had 500 people having been to space since space travel started,” Branson told Sky News on Friday.

“There’s a tremendous, exciting future but obviously it’s tough,” he said.

Testing on the SpaceShipTwo, which Branson said was constructed by a team of 650 engineers, will begin with the electrical system and moving parts, followed by flights attached to the WhiteKnightTwo mothership before progressing to glide testing.

“Because our new vehicle is so similar to its predecessor, we benefit from incredibly useful data from 55 successful test flights as well as the brutal but important lessons from one tragic flight test accident,” Virgin Galactic said in its statement.

SpaceShipTwo is a commercial version of SpaceShipOne, the first private spacecraft to reach the edge of space in 2004.

The new craft may one day carry six passengers on three-hour suborbital flights, offering them the possibility of momentary weightlessness and unparalleled views of Earth.

“The most important thing is that we get the test program done and completed so we can send people safely into space. And start a program where this spaceship can go into space hundreds of times in the years to come,” Branson told Sky News.

SpaceX Fails Ocean Landing January 17

Following up on our coverage of SpaceX and space tourism efforts in general, SpaceX is trying this weekend (January 17) to once again land a rocket on an ocean platform. [UPDATE: Although the mission to deliver a satellite for NASA was a success, the Falcon 9 did not make the landing. The rocket exploded spectacularly after toppling over on the landing platform. No injuries have been reported.]

Elon Musk’s firm recently landed its Falcon 9 rocket successfully on solid ground, in a story that made headlines around the world. It is important to remember once more that these landings are vertical and have only worked on dry land.

Previous attempts to set down the rocket’s first stage on a floating barge in the Atlantic Ocean have failed but the California-based company will try again on January 17, a spokesman confirmed.

So, turn your hopeful eyes skyward that day (or night as it might be in your part of the world) because reusable rockets represent our best chance of visiting outer space (unless you are an astronaut).

This time, the Falcon 9 will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

According to NASA, the rocket will carry “Jason-3, an international mission led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to continue US – European satellite measurements of the topography of the ocean surface.”

The launch is planned for 1:42 pm Eastern time (1842 GMT), at the opening of a 30-second launch window. A backup launch opportunity will occur on January 18 at 1:31 pm (1831 GMT).

SpaceX, headed by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, has tried three times before to land its Falcon 9 on what it calls a “droneship” platform, marked with an X.

Each attempt failed, after the rocket either missed, collided with the barge or tipped over after setting down.

On December 22, the company celebrated its first successful landing of the rocket’s first stage on solid ground, as part of SpaceX’s mission to make rockets reusable, much like airplanes.

The goal is to bring down the cost of rocket launches and make space flight more affordable and sustainable in the years to come.

This report was compiled by in-house writers, in combination with a wire report and image from the AFP.

Virgin Galactic to Reveal 2nd Spacecraft

It is the best time ever to be a science fan, even in the world of luxury, as the possibility of commercial space travel moves forward thanks to Virgin Galactic. The Richard Branson-founded Virgin Galactic announced its second commercial spacecraft will have a public reveal in February 2016. The official unveiling ceremony will be attended by no less than Stephen Hawking.

Sir Richard Branson will be rolling out the second SpaceShip Two from its assembly, integration and test hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California to an invite-only crowd that will include the world’s most famous physicist, reports NBC News.

Hawking is the only person to have been gifted a free ticket to take a space ride with Virgin Galactic, health permitting. Remember that space is still the most expensive journey on offer.

The company is moving forward with plans to make commercial space flight a reality, despite suffering a huge setback when the previous SpaceShip Two crashed in 2014 killing one pilot and injuring another.

The spacecraft will be unveiled Feb. 19. Following in the wake of Star Wars and CES, plus the recent success of Falcon 9 and Blue Origin, our future in space looks brighter than ever. We are keeping our fingers crossed for a successful flight.

This report was compiled by in-house writers, in combination with a wire report and image from the AFP.

Most Expensive New Year’s Eve Destination Revealed

Looking for an affordable, last minute New Year’s getaway? Best avoid sun-soaked destinations, as hotel room rates in places like Cancun, Miami and Los Angeles clocked in as among the most expensive, according to a new index. In terms of flights, New Year’s eve is actually a good day for return flights, historically.

On a related note, the most expensive flight is still a ticket to the International Space Station, according to the moderators at Reddit and based on this list. That also makes the ISS the most expensive destination at any time. Recent good news from both SpaceX and Blue Origin means that this ticket will become less expensive but trips to space are still more than likely to be the most costly, dangerous and exotic journeys any human being can embark on.

Back to the story at hand, the new index mentioned was compiled by online reservation site CheapHotels.org (the ISS is not listed there) and the results found that revelers in Cancun, Mexico are ponying up the most for the privilege of ringing in the new year in their bikini on the beach: the cheapest available double room booked between December 30 and January 2 in a minimum three-star hotel this year is $311 a night.

Cancun is followed closely behind by Dubai, where the most affordable room at a hotel of this level costs $302 and Miami Beach, where rates are $286.

SpaceX, Falcon 9

Both Space X’s Falcon 9 (shown here) and Blue Origin’s New Shepard have touched down safely this year, marking a bright future for space tourism. ©AFP PHOTO / Bruce Weaver

A look at the top 10 list shows that the priciest New Year’s Eve destinations for ringing in 2016 are found in either warm beach cities, or traditional party cities (i.e., New York) with the exception of one destination which stood out: Edinburgh, Scotland, the lone European representative.

At the other end of the spectrum, the most affordable New Year’s Eve destinations on the list include Buenos Aires, Argentina, where revelers can find a hotel for as little as $38, followed by Shanghai ($39) and Bogota, Colombia ($42).

For the ranking, number crunchers looked at the cheapest available double room in 30 major destinations around the world between December 30 and January 2 (three nights). Hotels with less than a three-star rating and negative, overall guest evaluation were excluded.

Here are the top 10 most expensive New Year’s Eve destinations according to CheapHotels.org:

  • Cancun (Mexico) $311
  • Dubai (United Arab Emirates) $302
  • Miami Beach (Florida, USA) $286
  • Los Angeles (California, USA) $272
  • Edinburgh (Scotland) $268
  • New Orleans (Louisiana, USA)$249
  • Honolulu (Hawaii, USA) $246
  • New York City (New York, USA) $245
  • Punta Cana (Dominican Republic) $239
  • Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) $232
Inside The Suntory Yamazaki Whisky Distillery

Suntory to launch whisky into space

Inside The Suntory Yamazaki Whisky Distillery

Japanese whisky will be sent into space next month to test how time in a zero-gravity environment affects its flavour.

Suntory to launch whisky into space

Samples of whisky produced by Suntory will be stored in the Japanese laboratory facility of the International Space Station for at least a year, with some flasks staying longer.

Researchers for the company believe that storing the beverage in an environment with only slight temperature changes and limited liquid movement could lead to a mellower flavour.

Suntory will send whisky aged for 10, 18 and 21 years as well as a number of other alcoholic substances.

Once they are returned to Earth, blenders will assess their flavours while researchers subject the liquids to scientific analysis, the company said.

“For the moment, we’re not thinking about applying the study results to commercial products,” a Suntory spokeswoman told AFP.

Whisky demand rocketed in Japan last year after national broadcaster NHK aired a drama called “Massan,” the true story of a Japanese entrepreneur and his Scottish wife who established Japan’s first whisky distillery.

Sales also soared when Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 was named the best in the world by the prestigious Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015.

Celestis Pets

Give space burial to your dead pets!

Celestis Pets

The cremated remains of your pet can now be sent to the moon on a special “Memorial Spaceflight,” thanks to a new initiative from Celestis Pets.

The company is launching a service this fall that will allow cremated remains or DNA to be placed in individual capsules on board a commercial launch vehicle, alongside scientific and commercial payloads.

Packages include suborbital flights that return to Earth, lunar flights and missions to deep space, with prices starting at $12,000.

“Our pet service flights are an idea that’s been a long time coming,” Celestis CEO Charles Chafer said. “Over the years we’ve received so many requests to include pets in our memorial spaceflights and we’re very excited to extend this tribute to our animal companions.”

Open to cats, dogs and other animal companions, the service will lift off this autumn when a blue merle Australian Shepherd named Apollo from Los Angeles will take the inaugural pet flight.

WhiteKnightTwo

Virgin Galactic Is Finally Cleared for US Take-Off

WhiteKnightTwo

Richard Branson’s dream of commercial space flights took a step nearer reality after  signed a deal with US aviation authorities to let it blast paying customers into space, the company said Thursday.

The agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets out how routine space missions from the Spaceport America base in the US state of New Mexico will be coordinated with the normal air traffic control system.

Virgin spaceship in space

Commercial flights are to begin by the end of this year and 600 people have already signed up at $250,000 each to take a trip on SpaceShipTwo.

The Virgin announcement came hours before Branson’s main rival in the commercial space race was to unveil its latest spacecraft. Elon Musk, CEO and chief designer of SpaceX, was to present his company’s next generation Dragon V2 spacecraft at an event in California on Thursday evening.

Virgin Galactic spaceship

Virgin searches for boy who inspired Virgin Galactic

Sir Richard Branson has launched a worldwide appeal to help him find the child who, 26 years ago, asked a question that inspired him to launch his commercial spaceline Virgin Galactic.

During a live appearance on a BBC TV show in 1988, Branson answered a viewer call from a young Shihan Musafer, who asked him “Have you ever thought about going into space?”

It was a harebrained idea at the time, to which Branson answered in the hypothetical: “I’d love to go into space, as I think pretty well everybody watching this show would love to go to space,” he replied.

“When you see those magnificent pictures in space and the incredible views, I think there could be nothing nicer. So if you’re building a spacecraft I’d love to come with you on it.”

Little did Branson know (or did he?) that little more than a quarter century later, he would be putting the finishing touches on what is poised to become a historic milestone in commercial and space travel.

“Now, Richard and the Virgin Galactic team are keen to track down Shihan to say a personal thank you for helping to inspire the idea with that phone call.”

Know Musafer? Tweet @richardbranson using the hashtag #shihanmusafer for his chance to take part in the historic flight as a VIP guest.

Thanksgiving ISS

Alain Ducasse to Send French Food to Space

Next summer, astronauts aboard the International Space Station will tuck into meals like lobster and celeriac puree, duck confit with capers and chocolate cake prepared by French chef Alain Ducasse.

Thanksgiving ISS

Instead of freeze-dried soups, vegetables and meats, space travelers will fete special occasions such as team changeovers and space walks with a fine dining meal developed by the French chef tita.

The final menu was decided upon by the astronauts themselves who selected 25 dishes including French lobster served with celeriac puree, organic quinoa with seaweed; duck confit garnished with capers, and a chocolate cake.

Some of the meals will be consumed on terra firma during the astronauts’ training, while others will be sent on the next space mission in June of next year.

Ducasse also enlisted French paté and canning company Hénaff to package the 2,000 meals which will be served in sterilized, ultra-light aluminum boxes.

high-altitude balloon

US firm offers 30 kilometer-high balloon ride

high-altitude balloon

Seeking to cash in on the space tourism boom, a US firm is offering rides in a helium balloon 30 kilometers (20 miles) up to gaze down on Earth.

The Arizona-based company World View Enterprises said Tuesday the trip will cost $75,000 and travelers will stay aloft for about two hours in an eight-seat “luxuriously appointed space-qualified capsule”. The capsule will ultimately detach from the balloon and glide to the earth with a parachute.

The flights are scheduled to start in three years. “Passengers will be among the few to have seen the curvature of the Earth with their own eyes,” the statement said.

“They will be able to gaze at the astounding views, the blackness of space, the brilliance of stars and the thin veil of atmosphere enveloping our planet – scenes previously witnessed exclusively by astronauts – for $75,000,” it added.

“Seeing the Earth hanging in the ink-black void of space will help people realize our connection to our home planet and to the universe around us, and will surely offer a transformative experience to our customers,” said Jane Poynter, CEO of World View.

She is also the co-founder of Paragon Space Development Corporation, which developed the capsule and brought together investors to create the balloon flight venture.

The Federal Aviation Administration has classified the World View capsule as a spacecraft, according to an FAA letter published Tuesday by the company.

Technically, space begins at an altitude of 100 kilometers (60 miles). From there on up, aerodynamic flight is no longer possible because there is no atmosphere.

World View Enterprises capsule

Virgin Galactic spaceship

New reality series to send winner into space

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Replica

In what’s being described as a partnership of titans, Sir Richard Branson has teamed up with reality TV czar Mark Burnett for a new series that will send the winner into space.

In line with Burnett’s wildly successful TV franchise “Amazing Race,” “Space Race” will take the concept of cross-planetary treasure hunts to new heights and give an ‘everyday person’ a seat aboard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceship.

“Virgin Galactic’s mission is to democratize space, eventually making commercial space travel affordable and accessible to all,” said Sir Richard Branson in a statement.

“‘Space Race’ allows us to extend this opportunity of a lifetime to as many people as possible right at the start of our commercial service – through direct experience and television viewing.”

The competitive elimination show will take place in the commercial spaceline’s home at Spaceport America in New Mexico, the departure point and training and preparation center for space flights.

The series is being produced by American broadcaster NBC.

Trip into space with DiCaprio costs $1.55m

Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio is going to get closer to stars of a different kind as he heads into space aboard the Virgin Galactic, and a well-heeled bidder at the Cannes Film Festival has paid 1.2 million euros (1.5 million) to be his travel buddy.

The Hollywood star’s sub-orbital trip was among 20 goodies up for grabs at the 20th amfAR bash, a gala auction that is one of the glitziest festival events and that this year helped raise a record-breaking $25 million for AIDS research.

Other big-ticket items were a role as an extra in four Hollywood movies, including a feature starring DiCaprio (1.5 million euros); two VIP seats for the 2014 Oscars awards (140,000 euros); a private acoustic concert for 45 people by Simon Le Bon and John Taylor of Duran Duran (400,000 euros); and a game of six-a-side against a team led by Zinedine Zidane (380,000 euros).

DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman, Janet Jackson, Jessica Chastain, Kylie Minogue, Audrey Tautou, Kristin Scott Thomas and Paris Hilton were among the 900 people who attended the charity dinner event at Antibes’ Eden Roc hotel. A table for 10 cost 120,000 euros, and an individual seat nearly 3,000 euros.

Entertainment was provided by Duran Duran, who played their classic “Girls on Film,” Shirley Bassey, who sang the signature Bond song “Goldfinger,” and American Music Awards winner Hot Chelle Rae performed their smash “Tonight, Tonight.” Since 1993, the gala has raised 87 million euros.

Virgin Galactic spaceship

Virgin Galactic tourist spaceship breaks sound barrier

Virgin Galactic tourist spaceship

Virgin Galactic‘s passenger spaceplane, which is designed to take tourists to the edge of space, flew its first rocket-powered test flight Monday, breaking the sound barrier at high altitude.

SpaceShipTwo ignited its engine after being released by WhiteKnightTwo, a plane that carried it to 47,000 feet (14,000 meters) above California’s Mojave desert. The rocket burned, as planned, for 16 seconds — enough to propel the spacecraft to 55,000 feet at 1.2 times the speed of sound.

“For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight,” said Richard Branson, who observed from the ground.

He predicted the successful test would pave the way to “full space flight by the year’s end.”

Next time, the company plans to keep the rocket going longer, to bring SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of more than 328,000 feet (100 kilometers), on the edge of space.

During the rocket-powered flight, pilots Mark Stucky and Mike Alsbury commanded the SS2, which, after just 10 minutes, landed safely on the runway of the Mohave Air and Space Port.

More than 500 people have already reserved seats — and paid a deposit on the $200,000 ticket price — for a minutes-long suborbital flight on SS2.

Branson has also said that he’ll bring his family on one of the flights to show his confidence in the safety of the spacecraft. SpaceShipTwo can carry six passengers.

Mars

Space tourism… to Mars?

Mars

The world’s first space tourist, Dennis Tito, has unveiled plans to send a manned mission to Mars and back, targeting a launch date less than five years away.

The two space travelers wouldn’t land on the Red Planet — or even enter its orbit — just fly through the vicinity and back, a trajectory Tito said would take 501 days, thanks to a rare planetary alignment.

The US space agency has aimed for the 2030s in its vague projections for a manned mission to Mars, and is focusing in the shorter term on sending robots, like the Curiosity rover that landed with much fanfare last summer.

Tito’s non-profit Inspiration Mars, by contrast, is starting essentially from scratch, with neither a vehicle nor a clear source of funding.

Still, the mission is “achievable,” insisted Taber MacCallum, the foundation’s chief technology officer and the head of Paragon Space Development Corporation.

Such a mission would likely cost between $1 billion and $2 billion, according to Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, a group that campaigns for the exploration and settlement of the planet.

Inspiration Mars said it is not looking to NASA for the money, but will instead raise funds through “private, charitable donations.”