USA Today reports on the growing list of folks who have signed up for a Virgin Galactic flight whenever Richard Branson stops trying to be a soda pop magnate and fully focuses on his potential to be the Great Gatsby of outer space.
More (or perhaps more accurately, less) to the point: The ragtag crew of z-list celebs, handicapped geniuses, kooky visionaries, and regular joes lining up for the launchpad all but makes it a given that the first space tourism flight is going to be more tragic, insufferable, and mind-blowing (in a bad way) than the 1973 musical remake of Lost Horizon, which featured George Kennedy, Peter Finch, Olivia Hussey, Sally Kellerman, Charles Boyer, Liv Ullman, John Gielgud, and a bunch of fake Tibetans (plus a Larry Kramer script, for chrissakes). America–and Shangri-La–were never the same again.
Here's a partial list of the characters with $200,000 tickets in hand for flights expected to start in 2009 (give or take a couple of decades): "…British scientist James Lovelock…best known for proposing what's now called the Gaia theory, which suggests the Earth is a living, self-regulating organism whose parts work together to sustain life"; "actress and skin-care entrepreneur Victoria Principal" (who quipped "I've asked that [the spacesuits] not make us look fat," showing that she somehow missed Gil Gerard's run as Buck Rogers); movie director Bryan "Singer, a science-fiction fan who says From the Earth to the Moon is his favorite miniseries since Roots"; Edward Roski Jr., the "real estate magnate [who] has climbed to base camp on Mount Everest, biked across Mongolia and gone scuba diving in New Guinea"; astrophysicist and Lou Gehrig's Disease sufferer Steven Hawking; interior designer Philippe Starck; newlyweds Loretta and George Whitesides, who have "created an annual worldwide space party called Yuri's Night, in recognition of Yuri Gagarin, the first human to be launched into space"; and more.
This sort of character mix reads like, well, an Irwin Allen series about a family stranded in space. Seriously, is there anyway a spaceship full of the above will not end in some sort of melodramatic disaster replete with giant talking carrots, robots named IDAK, and a mysterious, green-skinned, celestial skank named Athena? All that's missing is for someone to stow away Jonathan Harris's corpse and make sure Smith the Mighty is automatically reanimated when the ship reaches Alpha Centauri.
Here's hoping that Bob Kuttner is on board to bitch and moan about the service. And that the video feed doesn't cut out once everyone starts suspecting each other of hogging the slowly dwindling oxygen supply.
Reason's Katherine Mangu-Ward explored Space Travel for Fun and Profit in the January ish.