Travel to SPACE in style
Elon Musk recently announced on an episode of the Late Night with Stephen Colbert show that his company, SpaceX, was only two to three years away from successfully building a reusable, manned spacecraft. Then soon after, SpaceX revealed it – the Crew Dragon. The Dragon capsule was the first commercial craft to restock supplies on the International Space Station (ISS), and if the Crew Dragon succeeds in what it is intended for, it will be the first reusable craft to ship humans on return trips between Earth and the ISS.
There is a stark difference between the cockpit of the Crew Dragon with what we are used to seeing in spacecrafts – confusing clusters of buttons, dials, switches and gauges. So complicated the controls used to be that during the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, the pilot Jack Swigert – worried he would make a mistake in his exhausted, famished and dehydrated state – taped a note that read “NO” over a switch to prevent himself from ejecting the wrong module while his crewmates were still inside it. Don’t worry…he and his crewmates survived and their ordeal was turned into a movie starring Tom Hanks as Commander Jim Lovell and Kevin Bacon as Jack Swigert.
The Crew Dragon, on the other hand, couldn’t be more different and minimal. The mostly white interior is sleek and elegant, and covered in glass displays and expensive upholstery. The description in the SpaceX website even reads like a luxury car brochure:
“Crew Dragon was designed to be an enjoyable ride. With four windows, passengers can take in views of Earth, the Moon, and the wider Solar System right from their seats, which are made from the highest-grade carbon fiber and Alcantara cloth.”
There’s even a thermostat that passengers can use to control the temperature inside the craft for a more comfortable journey.
Sure, the recent landings of SpaceX rockets have been far from soft, which might have aggravated the fear of flying in some. But if – or when, according to Musk – they overcome the ‘trivial’ problem of crashing when landing, space flight will not be “much more expensive than air travel”.
If we look back at the golden age of air travel, sometime in the fifties, going on a flight was not the everyday affair that we are used to today – flying was not just a means of getting to your destination, but part of the destination itself. Passengers put on their best clothes, posed for photographs before boarding and the flight ticket cost more than the average worker’s salary. A round trip from the States to Rome then cost equivalent to US$3,000 today, but the fare for that same trip today is about a third of that amount.
So, it is fair to say that the beginning of commercial air travel was limited to a small group of “well-to-doers”, and it is no different for commercial space travel. The other entrepreneur extraordinaire, Richard Branson, has been promising the first commercial flight to space since 2009, with his company, Virgin Galactic. But the first flight has been delayed a number of times and the October 2014 crash of the test spacecraft, which killed one of the pilots, undoubtedly put a damper on progress. Still, there is a long list of rich and famous personalities willing to part with a small fortune to join in the two and a half hour journey, with just six minutes of zero-gravity when passengers can float around. The Guardian reported that almost 700 people, including Tom Hanks, have paid between £125,000 and £155,000 for a seat on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. If we had that kind of cash, even we might be willing to part with it to sit next to the pseudo Commander Jim Lovell.