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It's crazy to think that Spaceport America, the middle-of-nowhere New Mexico base for Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, has already been open for just over two years. We may not yet have regular flights to space, but while that day grows nearer the public is very welcome to come have a look around.
The Spaceport, located in the Chihuahuan Desert 150 miles south of Albuquerque, actually offers public tours aimed at "giving guests an up close look at the spaceflight facilities before operations begin." The tours have grown so popular that the tour operators, Follow The Sun Inc., have changed the pick-up point to a more central location (The Holiday Inn, with free breakfast!) in the hot springs town of Truth or Consequences.
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We haven’t heard that much from Virgin Galactic recently, but that doesn’t mean the space ship team hasn’t been hard at work behind the scenes. They’re still doing their very best to ensure that space tourism becomes a reality sooner than later. That’s definitely good, since from what it sounds like, the space flight carrier already has more than a few customers on the books and ready to go.
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two just finished its latest round of testing, and thankfully things all went according to plan. The latest aerial endeavor was known as a "cold flow” test. They haven't lit the rocket engines on this sucker just yet, but it means they've completed pretty much everything else—so that means they’re ready for the next step. The ship’s contrail was even visible for the first time, so now we know how awesome the thing will look like when it blasts away from earth.
On April 22, KLM will launch a high-altitude balloon from the Nevada desert. It's all Felix Baumgartner-style, but instead of a capsule containing a person, the balloon will instead lift a capsule containing a ticket to space...to be won by you.
Enter to win on their official site, but give yourself a couple minutes to complete the process. Just as with space flight, it's not as simple as it seems.
First, there's a snazzy intro animation to the entire project, after which you must predict the max height the balloon will reach and how far it will travel from its launch point. We just did it, and there's no point in keeping your choice a secret since each altitude & drift combination is unique. As in, no one else can choose your same altitude & drift guess. If the balloon comes closest to that bit of space you've virtually claimed, then you win the Grand Prize of a flight to space on the SXC Lynx, a trip worth $95,000.
We’re all about in-flight comfort—from fine wining and dining to the latest in sleeper suites, it's all of interest to us, and of course we want to try it. However, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t interested in something a little more adventurous when climbing aboard an aircraft. That’s why we’re pretty intrigued about the Zero-G flights now available to the paying public over in Europe.
You’ve probably heard of the “Vomit Comet” before, as aircraft flying wild courses to experience reduced gravity is hardly a new concept. Space agencies have been using airplanes for years to simulate varying degrees of weightlessness, but you no longer need to be an astronaut to climb aboard. Trips like this have been available in the United States and Russia, but this is the first time these kinds of flights have been open to one and all in Europe.
Know what's cool? Space. Know what's even cooler? When things floating around in the vastness of space come pay a visit to earth. Ok, that's only cool when it happens thousands of years ago and doesn't hurt anyone. Luckily for us, that's exactly what happened near Winslow, Arizona 50,000+ years ago.
Formerly known as "Canyon Diablo Crater," this meteor crater, now known as the "Barringer Crater," is said to be the world's (that's right, world's) first proven and best preserved meteor crater. It's so well preserved that NASA used it in the '60s to train astronauts preparing for Apollo missions to Earth's moon. They did this because the crater very closely matches those found on the moon.
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A Russian region once shunned as the site of the world's third-worst-ever nuclear disaster, in which hundreds of people were killed, has now become a potential tourist destination because it was hit by a giant space rock that injured thousands of additional people. The local tourism board is actually talking about making parts of the territory into a "Meteor Disneyland," a reference to last month's Russian meteor.
So they’re not exactly launching any space shuttles out of Florida anytime soon, but the Kennedy Space Center is still plenty busy these days. In fact they’ve got so much going on that they’d love to have you swing by and check things out for yourself.
The next piece of space stuff departing earth is the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and if things stay on schedule—and the weather cooperates—it’ll blast off on Friday, March 1. Those heading over to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex can score a front row seat for the event, with viewing right along the NASA Causeway.
If you’re looking to set a reminder on your phone, it’s all scheduled to go
down up at 10:10am EST from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
That meteor doing its thing over—and into—Russia was kind of neat in a crazy kind of way, huh? Still, we’re pretty sure that we’d prefer that the space rocks stay out of the atmosphere for a bit. However, it's totally possible to check out some of the space stuff that’s made its way down to earth already, which is why we were intrigued to learn about one museum where you can safely check out some astronomical debris.
The best preserved meteorite impact site in the whole world is just outside Winslow, Arizona. The one mile across, 550-foot deep crater is yours for the checking out, as the site and museum are open between 8am and 5pm daily. It’s not just a huge hole in the ground—although it is that first and foremost—as they’ve got hunks of space junk on display as well. There’s a meteorite fragment that weighs a cool 1,400 pounds, and there’s plenty of space this and astronaut that. They’ve even got some training items on display from the Apollo space missions.
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Space. The final frontier. Or, more likely, the next logical frontier for travel.
We recently had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Michiel Mol, Founder and CEO of Space Expedition Corporation (SXC), a Netherlands-based company pioneering affordable and sustainable commercial space flight.
Mol has dreamt of traveling to space for as long as he can remember and is a self-described nerd. It was at the age of 11 that he caught his first glimpse of space, through a telescope he built himself. In 1993 Mol and friends established Lost Boys, now known as LBI, to develop software. Getting in on that industry's frontier has thus paved his way towards this ultimate goal of breaching yet another.
SXCs first operational spacecraft, the Lynx (built by XCOR Aerospace), is due to perform its test flight from SXC’s Mojave spaceport as soon as April this year, marking SXC's first solid step towards the goal of rocketing willing, paying travelers nearly 65 miles up and into the blackness above Earth. A year of testing will then ensue, with the first commercial flights scheduled for the latter half of 2014. SXC-built spaceports at both Mojave, CA and Curaçao are also due to open in 2017.
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If you’re more bah humbug than ho, ho, ho, there are trees out there for you too: Moon Trees. These trees, located all over the U.S., don’t have sparkly lights or flashy ornaments but they have been to the moon.
Back in the 1971 Stuart Roosa brought along close to 500 seeds from five tree species on the Apollo 14 mission as part of an experiment. As Apollo 14 re-entered Earth's atmosphere the container carrying the seeds opened and the seeds all mixed together.
You can't exactly take a trip there (yet), but the International Space Station keeps on keepin' on with its outer space research even as the Space Shuttles settle into their retirement. Did you know the ISS is the third brightest thing in the sky? The Hairpin, one of our favorite blogs, even notes that the Space Station has a system where you tell it where you are on Earth and NASA will email you when the conditions are best for you to get outside and spot the floating lab far away from Earth.
It's called "Spot the Shuttle" and it's brilliant.
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If you missed the move of the Space Shuttles to their new homes in New York City and Los Angeles—don’t worry—there’s still one more NASA orbiter that has yet to reach its final resting place This time the transportation is taking place in Florida and not too far from where the astronauts and crew did their thing for decades. That means that there will be no piggyback-plane flyover, but at least you’ll have the chance to pay your respects to one of the country’s remnants of NASA space travel technology.
This time it’s the Space Shuttle Atlantis, and it's scheduled to head over to Kennedy Space Center on November 2. It only needs to travel around 10 miles or so to park and ready a new $100 million exhibit, but much of the path is through restricted areas and other limited access places.
That means you’re going to need to buy your way along the route and the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex will be happy to sell you some tickets for exactly that.