Space travel means one pricey ticket

By Ned Cantwell: State columnist

George Bush, the first and arguably the brighter George Bush, first spoke in 1987 about “the vision thing.”

The vision thing. It’s the concept of looking past my tiny world and dreaming of what could be. I don’t have the vision thing. Noting my inability to project beyond current reality and explore the unknown, a buddy surmises had it been up to me to settle the West, we would all still live in Rhode Island.

There would be no freeways in the Ohio Valley. You could still buy downtown Santa Fe for $300. And, alas, there would be no space travel in the near future.

Gov. Bill Richardson wonders why some in the New Mexico media won’t stop writing about the nitty gritty stuff of life, stuff like cockfighting, and concentrate instead on big picture issues such as the fantastic possibilities of space travel. I’ll tell you why, Bill. I just don’t get it.

The governor can see people lining up for tickets to strap themselves into a contraption that will rocket them into space. I can’t. Thing is, he’s probably right. That’s why Big Bill spends his days wondering how he can get to the White House, while I ponder if I should make a separate trip to the post office in the morning, or stop by on my way to the golf course.

That’s why the think-big guv committed the state to pick up a hefty part of the $225 million Spaceport of America in Upham, a town near Truth or Consequences so remote that even Google can’t find it.

At this spaceport, the rich and flamboyant Richard Branson will headquarter his space tourism company, Virgin Galactic. Branson plans on shooting tourists into space as early as 2008.

First, my bet is that when the family settles around the dining room table to decide between Disney World or a trip to Upham for a space flight, Orlando wins hands down. For a family of four, the cost of $200,000 each seems somewhat prohibitive. On the other hand, there may be a discount for kids. (“Daddy, every time we fly into space, Billy gets the front seat — it’s my turn!”)

Virgin Galactic officials told Congress that by the year 2020, they expect 100,000 space tourists a year and at that volume the price will be cheaper.

Can’t you just see the Expedia Travel promotion? “Book now! Regular space flight prices cut to $190,000 round trip, limited time only. Book two fares and get three nights free at Truth or Consequences Best Western. Book eight flights and we’ll give you Truth or Consequences.”

Don’t get me wrong. Spaceport America is serious business. It exists and has already been the site of an initial space shot. Just a couple of months ago a company launched 50 payloads in one rocket, but instead of attaining the desired altitude, the spacecraft plowed smack into a mountain range.

(“Hey, me next! I want to take one of them space rides. Where do I sign up?”)
Spaceport America? Wait a minute. Another rich guy, founder Jeff Bezos, is bankrolling a second spaceport 240 miles from T or C in Van Horn, Texas. Its commercial flights could begin in 2010, with as many as 52 per year.

Two spaceports in our back yard. Tickets at $200,000 each. I just don’t get it. But, then, who cares? I’ve got to get to the post office. Where’s my horse and buggy?

Ned Cantwell also thought the hula hoop would never catch on. Contact him at: