Who amongst us can claim to have had an "out-of-this-world" vacation? Soon, we'll be able to say it and mean it.
For just 200,000 bucks, travelers can channel Buck Rogers with a trip to Earth's last frontier -- space. Agencies like Alpine Travel in Saratoga are authorized sellers of SpaceShipTwo packages, projected to launch sometime in 2014. I had a chance to visit the launch site for Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, recently. It's called SpacePort America, in southern New Mexico.
"These early trips are just scratching the surface of what we hope to accomplish," shared our tour guide. Sporting white sunglasses with the body of a fighter pilot (think Tom Cruise in "Top Gun"), he told us the future of space flight depends on being able to go orbital. "We are suborbital. We are not putting people into orbit -- we're putting them into space and then bringing them back."
Yes, for now, these are round-trip excursions. SpaceShipTwo will carry six passengers and two pilots on a two- to three-hour excursion into space. It won't launch from a pad, but will piggyback on a mother ship to 50,000 feet before separating and firing its rocket engine. And while 1,000-plus bucks a minute for flight time seems -- well -- astronomical, the package includes training in a facility unlike any on the planet.
SpacePort America rises from Earth like an extraterrestrial with deep, illuminating eyes. Imposing from one angle and stealth from another, it's built into the side of a berm on a lonely expanse of high desert. It's the perfect place for "top-secret" commercial space launches. The closest neighbors don't speak-- they moo.
New Mexico has a long history with space flight and is investing big in its future.
The state owns SpacePort and has signed a 20-year lease with Virgin Galactic, just one of its commercial space clients.
And who are Virgin Galactic's clients? The first 500 to plop down their $200,000 include stars such as Tom Hanks and Ashton Kutcher. The second 500 are cash-rich tourists for whom places like Europe and Dubai are so -- last century.
Let's be honest. Most of us don't want the g-forces or nausea that extreme altitude and weightlessness can induce. And most of us don't have this kind of chump change.We do, however, have $59 for the price of a tour (children 12 and younger cost $29) through Follow the Sun Tours. Here are three more attractions to bring you to Las Cruces, New Mexico: