Fly me to the Moon

Posted by Daniel Pendick
on Friday, January 12, 2007

You're a Silicon Valley god. You developed the most killer "killer app" in history. You just sold it to Google for a few billion dollars and change. You can have anything you want. What will it be? Diamond-encrusted cell phone? Nightly caviar bath? Health insurance with no deductibles or co-pays?

How about a thrill ride into suborbital space?

A surprisingly large number of the conspicuously wealthy have already paid their fares to a variety of companies offering "space tourism" services. This includes at least 100 people who have paid $200,000 to Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic to launch them into space starting in 2009, according to a recent report by the General Accounting Office. Four people have paid a reported $20 million apiece to be blasted from Kazakhstan to the International Space Station aboard a Russian rocket.

If you are a working schlep like me, personal spaceflight has been limited to reruns of Star Trek — until now. Microsoft Corp. and chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) Inc. have announced a contest whose winner will ride a rocketplane into suborbital space. The contest was announced January 8 in, fittingly, Las Vegas. Feel lucky?

The flight will be provided by Rocketplane Limited Inc. and piloted by former NASA astronaut John B. Herrington. The ship seats 4 and is powered by both conventional jet engines — to get the plane off and then back on the tarmac — and a rocket engine, to blast the craft to an altitude of 330,000 feet (100,600 meters). The whole marketing campaign is to celebrate Microsoft's imminent release of the new Vista operating system.

The game is called Vanishing Point. To win, you have to solve weekly sets of puzzle challenges. HARD ones. Who has the time? The caviar bath seems more attainable to me. And a lot safer.

Besides, as a loyal "Mac addict," I can only imagine one scenario in which I'd accept a ride into space from Microsoft: if Bill Gates himself comes along to serve my complimentary soft drink and bag of pretzel nuggets.

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