One weekend about two months ago, a company called SpaceX got plenty of attention for launching two astronauts into orbit, docking them safely at the International Space Station.
SpaceX, founded by Tesla creator Elon Musk, has an ultimate goal of colonizing Mars and other planets. But the territory above Earth’s atmosphere will have other human visitors as well: Another company, Virgin Galactic, is getting ready to provide brief journeys into space at a cost of $250,000 per person.
Virgin Galactic, founded by British mogul Richard Branson, has built a “rocket plane” that will be attached to another plane and flown to a high altitude. After the rocket plane’s release, its engines will ignite, sending the plane up vertically. The craft will enter the lower reaches of space and then turn upside down so that its passengers can see the Earth through windows at the top of the cabin.
Passengers will be able to leave their seats and float about the cabin during the few minutes they’re in space. The plane will then turn back over, descend into the atmosphere and glide to an unpowered landing, the way the space shuttles did for many years.
It sounds like a fun ride, although far too expensive. But it does call to mind an early scene in the film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” when a scientist takes a Pan Am spacecraft to a wheel-shaped space station. It’s 19 years overdue, but the space-travel prediction is coming true.