Space Adventures Interview
Space Adventures [SA]
N: Could a ten year old like me or anyone else actually go on a suborbital flight?
SA: Unfortunately no. There is an age limit. Right now Space Adventures does not offer suborbital space flight. It’s a space flight in the future. But for the offerings that we do have, you have to be at least age 16. So when you’re 16, you could travel to Russia and that’s where we have 0 gravity flights. You could do a centrifuge run. Centrifuge is where they simulate gravitational forces. So you could do a launch profile. Basically it would simulate the same G forces as you feel if a rocket was launching. In that same centrifuge you could also simulate the same profile for landing. What a centrifuge does is it rotates, but there is a ball at the end of the cylinder that also rotates. So with that you feel the forces of your body. That’s what a G force is. It’s whatever your body would feel. What is your weight?
N: About 67 pounds.
SA: So if you are on roller coaster and you feel pressure like when you are going down, that’s gravitational force. Like on a roller coaster you might feel about 2 G’s. So that’s 2 times your body weight. So if you’re 67 pounds, you’d feel weight of twice your body. So when you’re actually landing, our clients train up to 8 G forces. That’s 8 times their body weight that they would be able to withstand. Humans can really only withstand 10 times their body weight.
N: In the future would I be able to go on a suborbital flight at my age?
SA: I don’t think so. That’s more of a safety precaution than technology.
N: What kind of training would a person have to do to go on a suborbital flight?
SA: There are four days of training. Basically it’s more of lectures on what you would be experiencing. There are some physical elements to it. For orbital clients (we have sent 5 people to space), those clients have to go through 6 months of training. So they experience everything like the centrifuge. They acclimatize themselves with 0 gravity flights, so that they operate in weightlessness. They have to learn in Russian, because the official language on the rocket that we use is Russian. The rocket we use is a Russian rocket called the Soyuz. All of the lectures are in Russian. It’s all in Russian. You have physical things to do. You have your medical test. You have to work in and be familiar with weightlessness environments. But for suborbital it is different. Do you know the difference between suborbital and orbital?
N: Suborbital is here, not going into the orbit.
SA: Right, it’s not going into the Earth’s orbit. So what you’re doing for a suborbital flight, we call it a parabola, you’re just going up and then down. You just go up right out of the atmosphere and then come right back down. You are not going around. So suborbital is a much less difficult space flight, as far as what the difficulty is in building space craft and for us even to think about going back to the Moon or even Mars just to think about the energy and propulsion needed to get out of our own atmosphere. So suborbital is much easier. You are only is space for 3 to 5 minutes. So the training is based on how long you are actually in space. So other clients that we have sent have spent 14 days in space, so their training is much longer. They have to be much more physically and mentally prepared for the flight.
N: Tell me about the your rockets.
SA: We are not the manufacturer. We are what you would call the broker. So for our orbital flights, we use the Soyuz space craft. That’s Russian built. The Soyuz was first designed and developed in the 1960’s, way before you were born, to compete with the Apollo program. If you know anything about the Apollo program, that was NASA’s program to get to the moon. It was a big competition between the U.S. and Russia on who was going to get to the Moon first. So the U.S. was building the Apollo program and the Russians were building the Soyuz program and we won. We got to the Moon first. They had beaten us a few other times, like Sputnik which was a satellite. This October will the 50 th anniversary of Sputnik. They beat us with the first human in space. But the U.S. beat Russia on getting to the Moon. But anyway, once we beat them to the Moon, that game was over. So they retooled the Soyuz space craft to do low Earth orbit. That’s how we describe where the Space Station orbits the Earth. Low Earth orbit is very close to the Earth. It is about 230 miles above the Earth’s surface. When we say deep space, that is like Mars, somewhere beyond the Moon. So the Soyuz was readapted to do this low Earth orbit. That’s the vehicle we use to do our orbital flight. Now for our suborbital flight, that’s also a Russian company which is making that suborbital vehicle. They had worked on a vehicle that was very similar to the Space Shuttle. The Russians abandoned that program, but that company will be making our suborbital vehicle.
N: How does you company compare to other space companies?
SA: Well, we are the first and only to have sent people to space. People as in paying individuals. We are not a federal space agency. We are just a small company.
N: How many people do you expect to ride in the shuttle in the next few years?
SA: In all of history there are less than 500 people that have ever been to space and our 5 clients are part of that count. Our clients that have gone to the International Space Station, they pay about $20,000,000-$25,000,000 to go. Now for suborbital, the cost is much less. It is about $200,000. We anticipate because of the price reduction, more people will be able to take advantage of it. You think about the personal computer, or any kind of computer like a main frame, they used to be as big as a house and cost about $1,000,000 and hardly anyone could afford it. Only governments could afford it, like the U.S. government had some. It was through what we call those early adopters that would pay a lot of money for the early technology, that the companies like Dell and Apple and Gateway and other companies could take that initiative from the companies like IBM that were building the mainframes and build a small personal computer that cost about $1,000. But we couldn’t get from the mainframe to the personal computer without people putting their hands in those deep pockets. So the suborbital is still expensive, but we are hoping more people will take advantage of it. That through the course of time, say 20-50 years, when you’re 60, that it’s more commonplace. Like I said the suborbital just goes up an down, but you have the capacity to take that from a point A to a point B. That how we use commercial airlines now. Like a flight from New York to Tokyo right now, or from Dulles, it would take about 14 hours. We are hoping that by the time you are 60 or 70 or 80, that you could still drive out to Dulles and take that same flight, but it would take only 45 minutes to get to Tokyo. Instead of going 35000 feet above the Earth’s surface, you could pop up above the Earth’s atmosphere and pop back down. You are beating the course. It would be much more accelerated. We are hoping that this is going to be a new mode of transportation. But people are going to have to pay that $200,000 for manufacturers to be able to get ther reinvestment to be able to build safer and more reliable, easier and cost effective ways to build the space craft.
N: Why do you fly with the Russians and not the U.S.?
SA: Very simple, out of need. At the fall of the Soviet Union, a lot of government programs lost a lot of their money and so they became capitalist very quickly. They knew that to supplement their budget, they could extend commercial services. So that’s what they did. So a little analogy that will use around here is that the Russians total annual budget is probably like the landscaping fee at Johnson. Knowing that, they benefit a lot from our clients. NASA benefits a lot from our clients since they just bought 10 of their seats. NASA astronauts also launch on the Soyuz rocket. The Space Shuttle right now is just use to get to the International Space Station. They are using the Space Shuttle like an 18 wheeler to get the heavy equipment up. Soyuz is just a rocket. The Shuttle has a huge payload. They still need to man the ISS. So those crews use the Russian rocket to rotate the crews. Our clients usually travel with an American and a Russian.
N: Thank You!