Wanna take a ride into space?

By Jason Stewart

Robert Goddard would be proud.

When the father of space exploration moved to the Mescalero Ranch outside Roswell in 1930 to begin 12 years of experimenting with rockets, his ideas about human space travel were ridiculed publicly.

Goddard was vindicated again Tuesday.

RocketShip Tours, based in Phoenix, announced that it is selling tickets for rides to the edge of space. At a cost of $95,000 per half-hour flight, founder and CEO Jules Klar sold the first ticket to Danish adventurer and investment banker Per Wimmer.

Wimmer and pilot Rick Searfoss, who commanded the Space Shuttle Columbia on mission STS-90, will fly to an altitude of 60 km aboard the Lynx, a two-seat suborbital vehicle being built by XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, Calif.

XCOR Chief Operating Officer Andrew Nelson said that flights would begin in 2011 at FAA-certified spaceports. He said that will include Spaceport America north of Las Cruces once the facility gets certified. Six spaceports currently operate in California, Florida, Virginia and Alaska.

Voters in Doña Ana and Sierra counties approved spaceport taxes, while Otero county voters rejected the proposal. The New Mexico Spaceport Authority is continuing with plans to build the facility, and has sought support from other New Mexico counties.

“This is an important milestone,” said Nelson. “This is a monumental opportunity for regular folks to realize their dreams of flying into space.”

The first flights will be affordable to the caviar crowd only. The $95,000 price tag comes with a five-day retreat at the Camelback Resort in Paradise Valley, Ariz.

“Regular folks” need not suffer sticker shock. Prices for space tourism are expected to fall in the same way that airline prices fell. The first Pan American flight from New York to Rome in 1950 cost $786. Adjusted for inflation, that flight would cost $6,400 in 2008 dollars. A ticket for that flight costs $640 today.

XCOR CEO Jeff Greason said, “We will make space travel much safer, much more routine. We understand that in this industry, promises have outpaced performance.”

Klar, who achieved notoriety as a travel entrepreneur in the 1960s by creating $5-A-Day European Tours, said he teamed with XCOR because of their safety and performance record. XCOR has fired reusable rockets over 3,500 times since 2000, accounting for over half of the world’s total reusable rocket launches during that time, all with a perfect safety record.

Searfoss said he looks forward to taking civilians into space. “It is gratifying to share the experience of space travel,” he said. “To see the curvature of the earth is a spiritual experience. Weightlessness is fun, too.”

Space tourists will have to pass physical and mental tests to be cleared to fly.

The Lynx takes off like an airplane, then climbs at a 75-degree angle to a suborbital altitude of 60 km before gliding back to the spaceport. XCOR is conducting its Lynx prototype testing near Mojave, Calif. Doug Graham, XCOR Media Relations Director, said that the regular Lynx production facility could be somewhere else. “Production will take place at Mojave unless we get a really good financial incentive to build it elsewhere.”

The first flight of the Lynx is expected in spring of 2010. Per Wimmer hopes to take his ride in 2011.