The Big Bank Theory
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Founded by Sir Richard Branson in 2005, the company — the first-ever commercial spaceline on earth — has been offering stargazers a seat on its SpaceShipTwo (SS2), a suborbital spaceplane designed for tourism. The itinerary is enough to make your jaw drop: from a spaceport in New Mexico, USA, the jet-powered mother ship — White Knight II — will take off like any other plane. After scaling 15 km, the SS2 will ignite its engine and passengers will be thrown back in their seats as it soars into space at 4,000 km/hr — four times the speed of sound. The SS2 will carry six passengers and two pilots at a time (no space for stewardess, sorry), and there will be one flight a week initially and two flights a day later. There will also be a three-day pre-flight training to help you bear the sight of a world upside down.
As of now, 529 people have signed up for the two-hour ride, which includes five minutes of experiencing weightlessness. There are half a dozen Indians among them, mostly residents of the UK and the US. If rumours are to be believed, the stars who will rise further in the stardom sweepstakes include Stephen Hawking, Tom Hanks, Ashton Kutcher, Katy Perry, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. However, Branson and his two kids will be the first passengers on SS2's maiden voyage in December 2013.
"Going into space is a hard business," says Branson. This could well be the final frontier for luxury travel. The day isn't far when you ditch the beaches of Tahiti and fly into outer space for an even tan. US-based Space Adventures, which uses a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, has so far sent seven people into space for $20-35 million each. Among them was investment manager Dennis Tito and entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari. (If you are not a million-dollar baby, watch The Big Bang Theory. At the Comic Con last week, a fan of the TV sitcom won a free trip to space aboard the Lynx Orbital Space Plane).
The sky is no longer the limit. Boeing is getting into making passenger spaceships. The Hilton has a design ready for a lunar hotel with 5,000 rooms. Britain's Excalibur Almaz is offering a four-month trip to the moon. The Japanese are eyeing a huge solar farm and a German firm has come up with space travel insurance.
And, best of all, Playboy and Virgin plan to set up an intergalactic entertainment destination or, in other words, a strip club in space. So if your honeymoon is done and dusted, don't get spaced out. Just get rich and fly high!
(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 30-07-2012)