I suppose it’s time to set aside childish things – to forget about the works of Heinlein, Bester or Clarke, about the comic books and the grainy B-movies of the 1950s. With the promise of commercial suborbital space flights from companies like Virgin Galactic and Armadillo Aerospace comes the crushing realization that the final frontier might be nothing more than a tourist destination for the wealthy. Gone are the gritty possibilities of sociopathic antiheroes and rogue AIs – names like Virgin CEO Richard Branson and Ashton Kutcher are the protagonists of this new era of exploration.
On Monday, Branson announced on his blog that the Two and a Half Men star was the 500th customer to put down a deposit for a seat on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo – a seat that carries with it a hefty $200,000 price tag. After its exhaustive testing finishes later this year, the first commercial flights are expected to begin sometime in 2013. The well-to-do cargo of the six-passenger vessel will enjoy just a few minutes of weightlessness when the ship reaches the altitude of about 68 miles before plunging safely (a fact which remains to be seen) back to Earth.
I can’t help but cringe at the thought of the world’s most opulent enjoying their brief moments of zero gravity by slinging caviar into one another’s mouths.
Not exactly the only disheartening space news this year, as the March issue of Playboy featured quite imaginative conceptual designs of an orbital resort where patrons would be served the finest spirits by jetpack-clad Bunnies and engage in ungodly acts that would break laws of both physics and human decency. While it’s doubtful that Hugh Hefner will get to see the sci-fi sex fortress in person, his interplanetary legacy will hopefully live on in the scotch-soaked memories of his loaded customers.
So now, after 22 years of dreaming of exploring the vast reaches of the solar system in a ratty old spaceship, I come to find out it’s nothing more than an upper-class vacation spot (like Bora Bora, only 68 miles above sea level). I suppose I’ve always knew my spirit would be crushed by Ashton Kutcher – trucker hat and all.Tags: Ashton Kutcher, Playboy, richard branson, science fiction, space flight, virgin galactic