Paying More For Flights? Try $70.6 Million Per Seat

Travelers have become accustomed to paying more for flights as airline fees soar, tapping them for billions. Between baggage fees, service fees and in-flight fees, it is getting harder to find cheap fares and no one knows that better than NASA.

As the space shuttle program came to an end in 2011, NASA began relying on the Russian Space Agency to ferry astronauts and supplies back and forth from the International Space Station (ISS). But even NASA, OK with paying $65 million per seat, did not see the latest price hike coming. Agreeing to pay $424 million for the flights of six astronauts aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft to service the ISS in 2016 and the first half of 2017, NASA is not happy.

But NASA really has no other choice than to pay the $70.6 million per seat fare as Russia has the market cornered as the only way to get to and from the space station.Yes, several U.S. companies are in the process of taking that business away from Russia, but those efforts are a few years away. SpaceX is making cargo shipments, but not shipping humans yet. Still, according to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, had congress approved NASA’s funding request for commercial space travel, the situation could have been avoided.

“Because the funding for the President’s plan has been significantly reduced, we now won’t be able to support American launches until 2017,” said Bolden in a NASA blog post reported by LaboratoryEquipment.

It’s a tough place to be for NASA. On the other hand, the $100 million they spent to build a home for retired space shuttle Atlantis in Florida could have come in handy right about now. At least we can choose not to check luggage, comparison shop and bring our own meals on board. Astronauts don’t have that option.

[Photo – Flickr user chatarra picks]

Private Firm Announces Commercial Flights To The Moon For 2020

A new start-up calling itself The Golden Spike Company has announced plans to commence commercial space flights to the moon beginning in 2020. But before you reach for your credit card and start booking your first flight, there are a few things you should know. The business is primarily aimed at nations – not private individuals – and it comes with the hefty price tag of $1.5 billion.

Golden Spike says that they have already had a number of inquiries from several interested countries and one wealthy individual. They believe there is a market for the program, even if motivations are more centered on prestige rather than scientific research. The $1.5 billion cost puts it out of the realm of possibility even for many nations, but considering that the price is for a round-trip flight for two, perhaps we’ll see interested parties actually splitting the costs.

Of course, with the current state of commercial space flight efforts, it would be easy to dismiss Golden Spike’s claims of providing commercial travel to the moon in just seven years time. But the company is made up of spaceflight experts and former NASA employees, which does give the effort some level of legitimacy. Still, I wouldn’t hold them too closely to that 2020 date. They have an awful lot of research and development to conduct before they ever get this venture off the ground.

[Photo Credit: NASA]

SpaceX Mission Viewing Available Live

The first SpaceX mission to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) happens October 7, 2012. The flight begins a series of missions to deliver and return cargo to the ISS under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract aboard the privately run Dragon spacecraft.

SpaceX’s Dragon will bring 1,000 pounds of supplies to the six person Expedition 33 crew aboard the ISS. Those astronauts will load us a robotic arm to grapple Dragon, attach it to the ISS then load an estimated 730 pounds of scientific materials and 504 pounds of space station hardware to be returned to Earth.

NASA’s goal with the Commercial Crew Development Program is “to accelerate the availability of U.S. commercial crew transportation capabilities and reduce the gap in American human spaceflight capability. Through this activity, NASA also may be able to spur economic growth as potential new space markets are created,” the space agency said in a press release.Florida’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is offering the public an opportunity to view this night launch from the NASA Causeway with a limited number of Special Access Passes that can be purchased for $20 plus tax, in addition to admission. Bus boarding will begin at 5:30 p.m. EDT for transportation to the NASA Causeway.

Launch viewing is also available from Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, including live mission control commentary, and is included with regular admission. The night launch is scheduled for 8:34 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

In other SpaceX news, earlier this month SpaceX’s Grasshopper vertical takeoff and landing test vehicle (VTVL) took its first test flight hop from the company’s rocket testing facility in McGregor, Texas, shown in this video:

The short hop of approximately 6 feet is a major milestone for Grasshopper, part of a reusable first stage for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. As seen in the video, “Grasshopper” is a Falcon 9 first stage, a Merlin-1D engine, and four steel landing legs along with a a steel support structure.

SpaceX is developing vehicles that are fully and rapidly reusable in line with a NASA goal of reducing cost and increasing the efficiency of spaceflight.

Grasshopper is expected to test out hovering at about 100 feet in the next several months.

[Flickr photo by FlyingSinger]

Training shuttle to be displayed in Seattle’s Museum of Flight

It looks like the Space Shuttle, but it isn’t. It’s made of plywood, for one thing, and it can’t fly.

Yet it’s a piece of aeronautics history and will soon grace Seattle’s Museum of Flight. This training shuttle, more properly called the Full Fuselage Trainer, is a full-scale mockup that astronauts have used for practice since the 1970s. The museum originally hoped to get one of the four actual Space Shuttles, but those went to other museums. The advantage of the training shuttle, however, is that visitors will be able to climb aboard and get a feel of what it must have been like to go on a mission.

The shuttle will be flown to Seattle in five segments starting in May and should be open to the public sometime in June, the Seattle Times reports.

The Space Shuttles are going to four different museums. The Atlantis will go to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center in Florida. The Endeavour will go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles. The Discovery is earmarked for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia. The Smithsonian will transfer the shuttle prototype Enterprise to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Interstellar travel dreams wanted

Have you ever thought or dreamed of what it might be like traveling to distant planets, perhaps in a different solar system? If so, the people that might very well make that happen in the next 100 years or so want your ideas.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and NASA’s Ames Research Center will host the 100 Year Starship Study Symposium in Orlando, Florida from September 30 to October 2. They hope to discuss “the practical and fantastic issues man needs to address to achieve interstellar flight one hundred years from now,” the agencies told PCMag.

That’s where you come in.

“This won’t just be another space technology conference-we’re hoping that ethicists, lawyers, science fiction writers, technologists and others, will participate in the dialog to make sure we’re thinking about all the aspects of interstellar flight,” David Neyland, director of the Tactical Technology Office for DARPA, said in a statement. “This is a great opportunity for people with interesting ideas to be heard, which we believe will spur further thought, dreaming and innovation.”
The conference has been divided into different topics and proposals can relate to those topics or cover a completely new topic. Choose from time-distance solutions; education, social, economic, and legal considerations; philosophical and religious considerations; biology and space medicine; habitats and environmental science; destinations; and communication of the vision.

“The genesis of this study is to foster a rebirth of a sense of wonder among students, academia, industry, researchers and the general population to consider “why not” and to encourage them to tackle whole new classes of research and development related to all the issues surrounding long duration, long distance spaceflight” says DARPA on the symposium website.

Think this is a silly idea? NASA and DARPA remind us that in 1865, author Jules Verne wrote From the Earth to the Moon, a story of sending humans to the moon. About 100 years later, that happened.