After Virgin Galactic hurt the feelings of the Chinese people earlier this year by banning Chinese nationals from its space flights, prospects looked dismal for mainland space freaks.
Perhaps that’s why 305 buyers signed up within minutes last Thursday when Taobao (yes, the online bazaar where you can truly buy anything) opened up registration for trips to outer space with the Dutch firm Space Expedition Corp. (SXC).
With prices starting around US$100,000, it was a bargain—and we know all Chinese like those—as packages for British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space flights start at US$250,000.
For the price, you get a 6-7 minute trip straight up, complete with weightlessness, aboard the spaceship Lynx, a piloted, two-seat, reusable, liquid rocket-powered suborbital vehicle, according to Bloomberg. The entire space travel experience lasts about an hour.
I don’t know about you, but sitting next to some random pilot-astronaut in spaceship not much bigger than a Chevy Suburban traveling at Mach 2.9 (about 2,200 miles per hour or three times faster than the speed of sound) doesn’t make my bowels feel so good. And that’s just going up.
From the SXC website: “After three to four minutes in mesosphere, the Lynx begins descending back to Earth. It will then rapidly pick up speed. In order to reduce its speed, the Lynx will do a pullout maneuver…only 25 seconds but, truly, not a picnic.”
Not a picnic? Pullout maneuver? That sounds like something you have to do before you crash. Or, equally as horrifying, before you burn up in the atmosphere. No, thanks.
(Disclosure: I am “adventured” out. The last time I did something even remotely audacious, I fell off the north face of the Grand Canyon. On a motorcycle. A story, maybe, for another day.)
Among China’s space enthusiasts who jumped at the Taobao offer—which includes a round-trip ticket from China to the SXC spaceport in Mojave, California—were four entrepreneurs from Chengdu and two from Shanghai.
“It is exciting that Chinese can enjoy space travel with a click of a mouse. Hopefully it will usher in a new chapter for Chinese to explore outer space,” said Zhang Yong, chief executive officer of Dexo Travel, a broker for SXC’s business in China, according to a China Daily report.
There are some requirements beyond having cash to burn, Bloomberg noted. Space geeks can’t be too tall or too young, with no one more than 6′ 5″ in height or under age 18 allowed. While the website says weight isn’t a factor, it does say that a person needs to be under 275 lbs to fit into the space suit. Mandatory physicals are also required.
Meanwhile, China’s official manned space program, is moving along at a historic pace.
China became the third nation to independently launch an astronaut into Earth orbit on Oct. 15, 2003. It has since rocketed nine other astronauts into space, and has announced a space station and crewed expeditions to the moon and Mars. A manned Chinese spacecraft successfully docked with an orbiting space module last year.
China is not one of the 15 participants of the International Space Station project, in part because of US concerns over the transfer of technology that could be used for military purposes.
The fear that rocket engine technology might get stolen is the reason why Virgin Galactic banned Chinese tourists from its commercial space flights in January of this year. The British firm will be launching its craft from the US, where strict anti-espionage regulations are in effect.
Taobao, with around 80 million product listings (including temporary boyfriends, novelty blood transfusion kits and, now, tickets into space) is operated by e-commerce giant Alibaba.
An Alibaba IPO filing on Monday revealed official Taobao sales figures for the first time ever—US$177 billion in transactions last year. For perspective, Amazon did about $100 billion in transactions last year, according to the Wall Street Journal.
– Contact us at [email protected]