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Space available, for a price

Published by Rob on Mon Apr 18, 2005 12:37 pm
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Al Lewis
Denver Post Business Columnist

Eric Anderson is the world’s first space-travel agent.

The 30-year-old entrepreneur is planning Spaceport, a Disneyland of space travel, where the attractions will include museum exhibits, simulators, zero-gravity jet rides and space flights.

“There would be something for everyone,” Anderson told me. “You could pay 10 bucks to look around or pay $100,000 to go up into space.”

Anderson, who grew up in Littleton, is the boy who dreamed of becoming an astronaut. He got caught up in “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos.”

He studied Russian language at Columbine High School, where he graduated in 1992. He wanted to go to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, but he lacked keen eyesight and feared his creative sensibilities wouldn’t be appreciated in the military. He went to the University of Virginia instead.

He spent summers working at NASA and met prominent astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin. He graduated at the top of his class in 1996 with a degree in aerospace engineering.

He used to wear a T-shirt that read, “Actually, I am a rocket scientist.”

At age 24, he founded Space Adventures Ltd. in Arlington, Va. Today, it’s the only company that has put private citizens into space. In 2001, Los Angeles investor Dennis Tito, then 60, became the first space tourist. In 2002, South African Internet magnate Mark Shuttleworth, then 28, became the second.

Both paid $20 million for flights on Russian rockets to the International Space Station. Anderson brokered the deals in Russian.

Today, Anderson is working on deals to blast two more multimillionaires into orbit. But he hopes that, soon, folks won’t need to be ultra-rich to escape gravity.

“It’s about opening up space so that tens of thousands of people can experience it,” he said.

At www.spaceadventures.com, Anderson already offers many of the attractions he hopes to showcase at Spaceport, from space camps and simulators to actual space flights on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, a three-passenger capsule launched on an expendable rocket.

In November, Anderson put Dorothy Simpson, then 79, of Seattle on a zero-gravity flight, where a plane makes repeated dives to achieve a few minutes of weightlessness. Guinness World Records certified her as the oldest woman to have experienced weightlessness.

“I didn’t set out to break any records,” Simpson said. “Space Adventures made it easy for me to fly.”

Space Adventures has taken $10,000 deposits from 150 people who hope to ride on the first commercial suborbital space planes. Anderson predicts these flights will become available in 2008.

In October, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and aerospace designer Burt Rutan claimed the $10 million Ansari X Prize for their SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded craft to achieve manned spaceflight. Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has licensed the technology to establish Virgin Galactic.

It sounds far-fetched. But maybe we can all be space rangers some day.

Last week marked the 44th anniversary of manned space flight and the 24th anniversary of the space shuttle.

“I remember there was this promise that in the year 2000 we’d be living on the moon,” Anderson said. “But we were locked into a race with the Soviets. Governments controlled the economics.”

The U.S. economy nose-dived in the 1970s and the Soviet economy collapsed in the 1980s. But the 1990s spawned technology millionaires, who today spend their fortunes putting their heads in space.

“It’s really taken until now to get where we ought to have been a long time ago,” Anderson said.

He believes private enterprise, not NASA or the military, will bring pioneers to the last frontier.

He’s now scouting locations for his $200 million Spaceport. He hopes to be among the first passengers on the suborbital flights he books. But for now it’s enough to sell rocket rides to the rich.

“I am really happy to fly people to space,” he said. “Watching other people fulfill their dreams is almost as fun as fulfilling your own.”

Al Lewis’ column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at 303-820-1967 or alewis@denverpost.com.

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