So you want to be a spaceperson?

How would you like to be from Albuquerque, New Mexico? Just think, you’d have to write out that convoluted sequence of vowels and constellations in “Albuquerque” every time you were asked for your address.

How would you like to be from Albuquerque, New Mexico? Just think, you’d have to write out that convoluted sequence of vowels and constellations in “Albuquerque” every time you were asked for your address.

It could be worse.

It could be “Pekwachnamaykoskwaskwaypinwanik” which is a lake straddling Manitoba and Nunavut and is the longest place name in Canada.

And — yikes — it’s only the fourth longest place name in the world.

You don’t even want to try to spell those babies. (I HAVE to spend less time noodling on the interweb…)

But, you may ask, what has this all to do with wanting to be a Spaceperson, and thanks for asking.

You see, near Albuquerque, which is actually quite a fun word to type, just last week some people launched a balloon.

No big deal?

Au contraire, mes amigos.

This balloon was officially the size listed as “ginormous” and it broke the world record for the highest parafoil flight, at 120,000 feet (7 million meters).

Hold on, was it a balloon or a parafoil which is essential a large wing-shaped parachute? Good question: it was actually both.

The idea is this: a ginormous balloon, similar to the one that lifted Austrian daredevil Felix (Big Jump) Baumgartner to his record-breaking sky dive of 24 miles (7 million kilometres) in 2012, hoists a large curved parafoil parachute thingy (a ParaWing) attached underneath.

And here’s the kicker: underneath that hangs a capsule and inside that capsule you and the other wannabe spacepersons are riding into the very edge of space.

This of course, is where the aliens live.

But never mind, last week there was an unmanned and unwomaned test flight of the stratospheric balloon/ParaWing (which the company calls “World View Voyager” on account of you voyage to view the world) and by all accounts, especially according to PR from the company hoping to make tons of dough out of this venture, it was a roaring — or perhaps floating — success.

This ascent by gentle balloon and descent via floating ParaWing is not to be confused with the other space tourist venture adventure being touted and tooted by famous long-haired bazillionaire Sir Richard “The Virgin” Branson.

The founder of Virgin Air, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Records etc. who, contradictorily, has three children, two divorces and one book called Losing My Virginity, also has a company called (what else) Virgin Galactic.

Their space ship has been cleverly named “SpaceShip Two” and it is supposed to take six passengers and two crew on a rocket powered craft some 62 miles (100 Virgin kilometers) to what is described on their website as the “official very edge of space”.

Then after a bit of weightlessness where passengers can either feel like real astronauts or lose their lunch, the ship will glide effortlessly (as long as all eight on board have their fingers firmly crossed) back to the Spaceport launch site in New Mexico.

The total time in the two and a half hour flight that you are weightless on the very edge of space? About 6 minutes.

By comparison the World View Voyager will also take six spacepersons and two crew, but they will take about one and half hours to rise to the 20 mile mark (30 Voyager kilometers) where voyagers can ooooo and awwww at the curvature of the earth and what WVV calls “the near space environment”.

But here’s the cool thing: passengers will have nearly two more hours to float in ‘near space’ in a “luxury” capsule wherein they can stand up and walk around to various windows on all sides, enjoy a drink from the bar and take advantage of full access to the internet so they don’t have suffer from Facebook withdrawal whilst they are being spacepersons.

The World View Voyager experience will take twice as long Virgin’s two and a half hour astro-ride, but, of course, there is a price point difference.

As for the nitty-gritty, the nuts and bolts, the brass tacks, the cat’s meow, and the dog’s breakfast — what kind of coin are we talking about here?

Well, the capsule-balloon-ParaWing people are asking a cool 75 grand per person per float.

Sir Virgin and his astro-nuts are collecting $200,000 to $250,000 per for their rocketman and rocketwoman ride.

So — what the hay — for the average cost of putting your Rotten Kids through university you too can be a spaceperson!

For the World View Voyager, you have until 2016 when the company expects lift off of its first commercial flight.

As for SpaceShip Two, you’d better get in line.

Because even at $250 K, according to Virgin Galactic, already over 700 (yes, that’s seven hundred) people have paid in full for a chance to be a 6 minute weightless spaceperson and see the edge of the earth and possibly lose their lunch.

Apparently Tom Hanks and Angelina Jolie will be among the first to launch, which isn’t surprising because one of them is a total space aficionado and the other is a total space cadet.

But even those millionaire heavyweight pop culture mavens will have to be patient.

The first passenger flight is scheduled for later this year — however, the company has been announcing that every year since old Sir Richard had short hair.

And besides, Sir Branson recently confirmed once again that the very first passengers to hit sub-orbital space in his SpaceShip will be none other than he, Sir Boss himself, and his three children.

After all, it will be the virgin flight.

Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.

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