Cruising through the Sunday newspaper coupons a few months back, you may have been surprised to discover that one of the more fabulous vacation giveaways would take you to a beachless spot less than 75 miles from home–or, rather, above home. Dole Foods was giving away a sub-orbital journey on a tourist-bearing space shuttle cruise.
The grand prize: a week-long "space experience" package with Virginia-based Space Adventures, including two days at a space institute, three days of astronaut training, travel, lodging, meals, and, of course, a spaceman's view of the big blue marble. It's a pretty pricey giveaway (retail value: approximately $100,000). Then again, the odds are even more astronomical than usual. That's because the trip's vehicle, the Vela Space Cruiser, isn't actually built yet. (Dole includes a disclaimer that says the winner will get $50,000 if the trip fails to blast off before the end of 2003.)
The lack of an actual spaceship hasn't stopped more than 140 people from plunking down deposits to reserve spots on Space Adventures' future cruises, says company spokesman Chris Faranetta, who adds that liftoff is scheduled to launch by 2004. For those who can't wait, Space Adventures–an established adventure outfitter–already books tourists on space-related journeys, such as high-altitude rides on Russian fighter jets and zero-gravity adventures aboard parabolic flight aircraft. It also does more mundane tours, such as U.S. Space Shuttle launches and stargazing.
Several other companies are also thinking up ways to lure you and your vacation dollars into space: Virgin Atlantic's Richard Branson has announced plans for his next venture, Virgin Galactic Airways, and other established companies have talked about building hotels in orbit. To cynics, it may all sound hopelessly starry-eyed. Then again, it wasn't that long ago that no one but soldiers and scientists traveled to the North Pole or Antarctica. Now cruise lines regularly shuttle tourists to those terrestrial spots.