When I was a kid, the idea of space tourism would have sent me, well, to the moon.
I would have run as fast as my little legs would carry me to sign up for the journey.
My childhood coincided with the dawning of the space age which caused me to lust after all things astronomical as it did for many of my generation.
Alas, at my present age, even if space tourism becomes a reality any time soon, I’m afraid I won’t be strapping in for a journey to the realm of my boyhood dreams.
As we reached the apex of the journey, weightless, with the earth below and a billion stars seemingly within reach, I would probably doze off.
Then there is the fact that as a child, eager to embrace space travel, I forgot to read the fine print.
A ticket on Richard Branson’s SpaceShip Two, for example, will set you back $250,000. Take the wife and kids along and it runs into some serious money. Yet, CNN reported that some people have taken out second mortgages on their homes to pay for the journey.
And if you think the lines at LAX are bad, 600 people have already signed up for a trip aboard SpaceShip Two, which holds six people.
SpaceShipTwo would be flown to 50,000 feet by a jet called WhiteKnightTwo and then released, at which point its rocket engine propels the spacecraft at 3.5 times the speed of sound to as high as 62 miles in about 90 seconds.
The bad news is that when you land, you’ll be in New Mexico.
Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, is just one of a group of billionaires who are involved in a high-stakes interstellar poker game to see who flies the first passengers to the edge of space.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.Com, successfully launched a space vehicle called Blue Origin this week which flew to 330,000 feet then landed softly on its landing pad.
The capsule, according to Bezos, is fully reusable, which will dramatically reduce the cost of launches and commercial space flight.
Several companies are developing reusable rocket systems, including yet another billionaire, Elon Musk, he of Tesla electric car fame.
His company was almost the first to develop a viable rocket system, coming close to successfully landing their Falcon 9 rocket but all attempts so far have ended in failure.
Yet another wealthy investor, motel tycoon Robert Bigelow, has acquired the designs for inflatable space habitats from the Transhab program abandoned by NASA. His company, Bigelow Aerospace, has already launched two inflatable habitat modules.
The idea here is to use the habitats as space hotels. He’ll leave the light on for you.
But before you write a check for the next rocket to infinity and beyond, consider that there are real risks involved.
This isn’t like taking Southwest to San Jose.
For starters, the first SpaceShip Two blew up above the Mojave Desert last year killing one of the pilots. Another private enterprise ship ferrying supplies and science experiments to the International Space Station suffered a malfunction and was destroyed 20 seconds after launch.
Beyond that, experts say there are health risks ranging from higher gravitational forces during acceleration to space motion sickness that strikes some people in low and zero-gravity.
Outside of the Earth's protective magnetosphere, space radiation might also pose a risk, possibly to implanted medical devices.
Right now, there’s too little information now to definitively answer the question of who is fit for this kind of travel.
“We don’t have a specific list of conditions that would be disqualifying, but certainly uncontrolled medical problems (whether it’s hypertension or heart disease or lung disease, or many other conditions), would most likely cause concern and result in disqualification,” Dr. Tarah Castleberry, an assistant professor of aerospace medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, told Reuters.
Branson, the Pied Piper of space tourism, assures the public that he wouldn’t ask anyone to go on one of his flights if he didn’t feel safe himself.
While that may be reassuring to some, not even Branson’s wealth will allow him to predict the pitfalls of space travel.
Alexander Saltman, the executive director of the Washington-based Commercial Spaceflight Federation, cautioned that suborbital trips by space tourists will be dangerous.
"There are going to be dangers that we don't know about when we start flying," he said. "There will be incidents and at some point somebody will lose their life in this industry... At this point, putting a number on it is going to be impossible, because the unknowns outweigh the knowns."
Which means, like our fascination with self-driving cars, we may be getting ahead of ourselves while impatiently waiting for the future.
Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector 1.