Space tourism celebrates tenth anniversary

space tourism, Dennis Tito
Space tourism
is ten years old this week. On 28 April 2001 millionaire Dennis Tito became the first person to go into space as a tourist and not an astronaut or scientist.

In an interview with BBC today he talked about how thrilled he was and called his eight days being in orbit “paradise.”

While space tourism is the ultimate in high-cost adventure travel–only seven people have done it so far and Tito is said to have paid $20 million for the privilege–private companies are hoping to make it more widely available. They also want to make it more comfortable. Tito was crammed “elbow to elbow” in a Russian capsule after NASA refused to put him on one of the Space Shuttles. Not that he cared at the time. Check out this video of Dennis Tito’s arrival at the International Space Station. The guy’s euphoric!

A number of private companies are looking into commercial space travel. The most serious contender is Virgin Galactic, which has already built a spaceport and put their spaceship Enterprise through a test flight. The company hopes to push an orbital trip down to $200,000, just one percent of what Tito paid. Who knows? Maybe good old free-market competition will push the price even lower than that.

Even more ambitious is Excalibur Almaz, a company based in the Isle of Man that has bought some Russian space capsules that they’re refurbishing. They boast that they’ll offer trips around the Moon by 2015.

Best of luck folks, but I won’t be looking for a Lonely Planet Outer Space in the bookstores anytime soon.

[Photo courtesy NASA]

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Heathrow, Gatwick, and other airports disrupted

A large cloud of ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano is sweeping across the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, shutting down airports all across the islands.

Heathrow and Gatwick were closed until 7am local time and have been operating on a limited capacity with numerous delays and cancellations. This morning Gatwick had the strange situation of being able to allow planes to take off, but its approach path, which was closer to the ash cloud, was closed and no flights were able to land.

Airports also faced disruptions in parts of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and the Isle of Man. Rail services are adding extra trains to deal with stranded air passengers. Currently only Belfast City, Londonderry, Shetland, and Orkney airports are closed, but most other airports in the region are still trying to catch up after numerous delays and cancellations.

As the cloud continues to move south and east, it may cause disruptions on mainland Europe. Amsterdam’s Schiphol, Rotterdam, and Groningen airports in The Netherlands are closed until at least 2pm local time.

The Met Office, a UK weather predicting service, is predicting the winds over Iceland and the North Atlantic will shift to a more easterly direction in the coming days, blowing the ash up into the arctic regions and away from more populated areas. They have created maps showing the predicted spread of the cloud.

Are you going on vacation this year?

The answers seem to be all over the map.

Few have extra cash on their hands, and those who are working are still worried about what the future will bring. It’s tough to dash off to somewhere exotic – or even somewhere that’s not home – when you don’t know if your income will be there when you get back.

But, sometimes you just have to get out of town. There is some truth to the fact that layoffs are hardest on the survivors. Those left behind have more work than before and are unlikely to be rewarded handsomely. All the extra stress is made worse by the fact that the next round of cuts may be around the corner. It may make sense to hoard cash just in case.

So, how do you choose? Do you give yourself the break that you need and spend a few bucks on satisfaction, or do you take the safer route financially and suffer silently?

I decided to conduct a very unscientific survey, posing this question to the members of Helpareporter.com. The responses varied widely.There is one common theme. For almost everyone, the decision of whether to stay or go is a tough one. Money is tight, and nobody knows where the bottom of the market will be. Travel plans were not made lightly. Budget travel is on the agenda almost universally.

Melody Brooke and her husband normally take three weeks of vacation a year, but her business folded this year due to the tough economy, and her husband’s had a tough time here. So, their “timeshare sits empty.”

Lisa Brock is a small business owner, making today’s economic conditions particularly worrisome. Nonetheless, she and her husband are heading out to Egypt. “While we considering NOT spending the money – we decided we have earned it and we can manage – even if we have to give up eating out or theater/concert tickets to do so.” Making cuts elsewhere can give you the elbow room you need to decompress.

Like Brock, Jennifer Tipton is self-employed, and time away from work means that money isn’t coming in (I can relate; I’ve been there. Yet, she says, travel is very important to me. If I do not take a break from working and my daily life I will not be the best I can be at my job.” Working in personal fitness, she needs to keep her energy up and is planning a big trip for the end of the summer.

Christel Hall has seen clients in her writing/consulting business cut back this year and thus calls herself “employed and cautious.” She’s combining her vacation with a three-day conference for work, adding three days to the front of the trip to relax.

Kathryn Rippy and her husband “need a vacation very badly,” but they are “holding onto our money right now.” She hasn’t had a real vacation since before the birth of her child more than a year ago, and her job as an independent management consultant is both demanding and “lumpy” (hey, my old gig, too!). Her husband’s a consultant as well, and a tough market is magnified in that line of work. But, they need a break and are using frequent flier miles and hotel points to take a short trip out to Key West. Several others responded that they are hitting the road but scaling down their plans.

“Some R&R is definitely in order,” for Ty Mays, who was laid off twice during the Bush administration. To unwind for a little bit, he’s driving to Jacksonville and then taking a bargain cruise to the Bahamas … “and there will be no souvenir or duty free shopping for me!”

Carmen Shirkey and her boyfriend are headed to Amsterdam, despite the fact that her boyfriend’s plant shut down last week. They had already booked the trip and are following through with it. “Lots of people at his company said they were taking a trip to blow off post-layoff steam,” she says, “and I think it’ll do him a world of good to just forget about things for a week.” This isn’t the first I’ve heard of this situation. Many choose to get away and relax … and worry about the real world when they get home.

Perhaps the most interesting story came from Anna Broadway. She writes, “I’m employed in a fairly stable industry, but certainly not immune to all the economic anxiety in the air these days.” She hasn’t budgeted for a vacation but did want to head to the Isle of Man for her 30th birthday last summer. To go this year, her plan is to use her tax return to finance her wanderlust, “since I had not included that money in my financial planning for the year.”

“I hear it’s supposed to be a good year for travel bargains,” Broadway continues, “so it seems like the timing might not be so bad for a vacation after all.”

Well, come back to Gadling from time to time, and you’ll see where the deals are!

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Ancient Viking Festival Recreated for May Day on Isle of Man

BBC.com is reporting that a battle between the Queen of Winter and the
Queen of Summer
is to be the highlight of the May Day celebration on the Isle of Man.  The fight is apparently
based on an old Norse custom.

The festival, called "Laa Boaldyn," apparently has its origins in the
Celtic calendar.  However, "the battle itself is actually a Norse custom which was absorbed into the
traditional May Day celebrations of the Manx people," said Nicola Tooms, Assistant Curator for Manx National
Heritage.

Sounds pretty interesting.  If we were still living in England, I might have nagged my
English husband to go take in the celebrations — however, he tells me that it always rains on May Day in England, so
it might have been a hard sell.