Tourists in Space

27 03 2009



Forty years ago this July, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin donned bulky white spacesuits and became the first to set foot on a Styrofoam set in a California movie studio designed to look like the moon. Incredibly, there are conspiracy theorists out there who actually believe that the two astronauts really walked on the moon, and ignore the overwhelming evidence that it was just shot on a back-lot using grainy 8mm film and beamed to televisions around the world.


Although tourists can follow in Armstrong and Aldrin’s footsteps and visit Hollywood, it’s not yet possible for them to spend Spring Break on the moon. Several years ago Sir Richard Branson launched Virgin Galactic to give those so inclined the opportunity to join the select group of almost 500 people who have flown in space by trying a sub-orbital hop beginning next year…for a mere $200,000 a ride. But there are less expensive ways to reach the edge of space…slightly less expensive, anyway.


Since the retirement of Concorde, the only way for civilians and non-astronauts to see the curvature of the earth and the darkness of space without doing heavy-duty drugs is to pay hefty sums to fly in a fighter jet. In Cape Town, South Africa a sound-barrier breaking flight in a Cold War vintage English Electric Lightning sets you back the price of a second-hand minivan, while in Moscow there’s the opportunity to sample a whirl in an aircraft that was amongst the most highly classified and sophisticated in the world: the MiG 31 Foxhound.


The Foxhound was until recently a top secret Soviet aircraft and flies at almost three times the speed of sound and 60,000 feet altitude – or 8,470 Shaquille O’Neals. When little more than a rumour and the focus of western intelligence attention, it was laughable to think that one day western tourists would be allowed to take one for a spin to the edge of space. Yet 20 years later there’s no shortage of adventure seekers heading to an airfield near Moscow on a day-trip with a price-tag almost as lofty as the dizzying heights the double-engined jet itself attains.


Although they don’t serve meals or show movies on the flight and the experience lasts less time than the average hunt for a car in an airport parking garage, at least your luggage won’t get lost this time…and you won’t have to drink Tang!



Photo and post by:   Simon Vaughan




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