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Space Transportation

Virgin Galactic Passengers May Just Miss Going into Space 203

Posted by samzenpus
from the close-but-no-cigar dept.
DavidGilbert99 (2607235) writes "According to the customer contract those signing up for a $240,000 flight on Virgin Galactic's spaceship the company will bring you 'at least 50 miles' above sea level. The problem is that the internationally accepted boundary for outer space is 62 miles above sea level — known as the Karman Line. Virgin is trying to get around the issue by claiming it is using a definition of space used by NASA — in the 1960s."
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Virgin Galactic Passengers May Just Miss Going into Space

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  • by Orestesx (629343) on Monday May 12, 2014 @01:57PM (#46981213)
    Presumably they are looking to see the curvature of the earth and the stars set against a black background. If I saw that, I'd feel like I went to space, even if technically I did not.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 12, 2014 @02:00PM (#46981249)

      Dude, for the amount of money paid, I would sure want the whole 62 miles, as well as being serviced orally by an angel.

      • by houstonbofh (602064) on Monday May 12, 2014 @02:05PM (#46981323)

        Dude, for the amount of money paid, I would sure want the whole 62 miles, as well as being serviced orally by an angel.

        For the amount of money paid, I would have read the fucking contract! This is less fuzzy than "unlimited" plans, and look how that turned out?

        • For the amount of money paid, I would have read the fucking contract!

          People who can afford that kind of money for a joy flight won't really care about any scientific definitions of space. It's all just about having flown on the Virgin Galactic bragging rights. Like, being hauled up Mt. Everest by Sherpas, or a helicopter flight to Machu Picchu.

          • For the amount of money paid, I would have read the fucking contract!

            People who can afford that kind of money for a joy flight won't really care about any scientific definitions of space. It's all just about having flown on the Virgin Galactic bragging rights. Like, being hauled up Mt. Everest by Sherpas, or a helicopter flight to Machu Picchu.

            Besides, look at the bright side - if you know any of the people who signed up, you can enjoy a bit of smug intellectual superiority as you correct them when they're droning on in the bar for the umpteenth time about their trip to "space."

            • by X0563511 (793323)

              ... until they counter with "well, how high have you been" and you have no answer better than 40,000 feet...

              • ... until they counter with "well, how high have you been" and you have no answer better than 40,000 feet...

                Not since junior high school have I been in a pissing match about who had ever been higher, or drunker, or had a larger schlong.

          • by turgid (580780)

            In that case I'm going to paint "Jockanese Galactic" on my 10-year-old Vauxhal Vectra Diesel and sell rides up to the top of Shap Summit on the M6 for £200k.

            A couple of dozen of those, and I'll be able to retire in style.

          • by sg_oneill (159032)

            The thing with bragging rights however is "We went really high up!" isnt as impressive as "We went to space!"

      • Dude, for the amount of money paid, I would sure want the whole 62 miles, as well as being serviced orally by an angel.

        Plus a guarantee that I was the first to "do it" on that particular Virgin Galactic ship.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by IDreamInCode (672260)
      As long as I was weightless, I wouldn't care.
      • by RockClimbingFool (692426) on Monday May 12, 2014 @02:15PM (#46981497)

        If all you want is to be weightless, the Vomit Comet [gozerog.com] is a much cheaper alternative for about $5,000.

        If you are paying the $245,000 premium, I would think they would want to get the official astronaut status of 62 miles.

        • by gstoddart (321705)

          If you are paying the $245,000 premium, I would think they would want to get the official astronaut status of 62 miles.

          If I'm paying that much money, I expect to get laid in space and snort cocaine off the boobs of the flight attendants.

          For most people, that's the price of a house.

          So I fear most of us have little sympathy if these people are truly in space or not, and this purely boils down to "look at how much more money I have than you".

          • by Wycliffe (116160)

            It's actually 250k for 5 people so $50k per person. Although this is ALOT of money it's not outside
            the possibility for the average software developer if they are willing to save for a few years.

            And 20 seconds at a time is not really the same experience. You're basically on a roller coaster at that point.
            There is no comparison between that and actually being able to eat a meal, do acrobatics, or have sex
            in no gravity.

            • by Wycliffe (116160)

              I misread. It's 250k for 6 people so 41k per person. Still quite a bit more than an average vacation but
              less than some people spend on a car.

              • by gstoddart (321705)

                I misread. It's 250k for 6 people so 41k per person.

                Hmmm ... so, why then does TFA say:

                So far more than 700 people have signed up for a trip on SpaceShipTwo, each paying $240,000 up front to reserve their seat.

                It sure doesn't read like they're paying $41K/person. It reads like they're paying $240K/person.

                I'm not sure where you're drawing your conclusion from.

            • by gmhowell (26755)

              It's actually 250k for 5 people so $50k per person. Although this is ALOT of money it's not outside
              the possibility for the average software developer if they are willing to save for a few years.

              And 20 seconds at a time is not really the same experience. You're basically on a roller coaster at that point.
              There is no comparison between that and actually being able to eat a meal, do acrobatics, or have sex
              in no gravity.

              Ask your wife; she'll verify that I can too have sex in 20 seconds.

              Boy, was she mad...

          • by ultranova (717540)

            If I'm paying that much money, I expect to get laid in space and snort cocaine off the boobs of the flight attendants.

            The cocaine poweder wouldn't stay on the boobs - or any other surface - in zero gravity. You'd need some kind of special inhalation device.

            • The cocaine poweder wouldn't stay on the boobs - or any other surface - in zero gravity. You'd need some kind of special inhalation device.

              I'm willing to be the person to test this. For science, of course.

      • by Junta (36770)

        You can be 'weightless' at an altitude of 10 feet (for a very brief period of time). You don't have to be in space to be weightless, just in an environment that is accelerating at the same rate as you in the same direction.

        But I take the point that physiologically there would be much difference between 50 and 64 miles up inside a vessel.

      • You can be weightless for about $150/hr for plane and pilot. Granted it won't be in more than about 20 second incriments, but my kid and his friends love it: "Daddy make the plane do the weightless thing again" alternates with 'are we there yet".
      • by bobbied (2522392)

        As long as I was weightless, I wouldn't care.

        There are cheaper ways to do that, and I doubt that Virgin's "spacecraft" is going to allow you to unbuckle and float around... There is always the Vomit Comet flying a parabolic zero G arc. I got a feeling it would be cheaper and you would get to float around for 25 seconds at at time.

        • I doubt that Virgin's "spacecraft" is going to allow you to unbuckle and float around...

          Why would you doubt that? It's exactly what they're planning on letting passengers do.

      • by bobbied (2522392)
        Skydive, it's cheaper... Who knows, it might be safer too..
    • by bobbied (2522392)

      Presumably they are looking to see the curvature of the earth and the stars set against a black background. If I saw that, I'd feel like I went to space, even if technically I did not.

      So, you'd settle for a picture or a video? Well, I think I'm going to expect a bit more.

    • by Moike (986142) on Monday May 12, 2014 @03:16PM (#46982281)
      The 62-mile internationally-accepted boundary is a completely arbitrary artifact of the metric system. It happens to be a nice, even 100 kilometers. There is nothing physically distinct about hitting 100 kilometers that makes it become "space". NASA previously defined it as 50 miles because they also wanted a nice even-sounding number and they were using imperial units to express it. I agree that if I got into a rocket, blasted off, saw the curvature of the earth and the blackness of space (and felt weightlessness for an appreciable period of time), I would say I have been to space, whether it meets the internationally-accepted definition or not.
      • by Eevee (535658) on Monday May 12, 2014 @04:43PM (#46983409)

        The Karman line [wikipedia.org] is only arbitrary in so far as they picked a nice even number in the metric system which is pretty damn close to the point where winged flight isn't possible without being at orbital speed. If it had been originally defined in the US customary units, it still would have been in the area of 62 miles up.

        • But in my mind, it's still not space or deep space as it is sometimes called. These terms should have been reserved for some place that is not still basically here, closer than the next biggest city on the ground.

          "Space" should be at least further away than the moon, and "deep space" should be out beyond the orbit of Mars. You know, actually far away from here.

          Arbitrary? No worse than Karman. And it's going to look damn ridiculous when we start claiming deep space is low Earth orbit when we all know f

    • by bitt3n (941736)

      Presumably they are looking to see the curvature of the earth and the stars set against a black background. If I saw that, I'd feel like I went to space, even if technically I did not.

      The airline could even capitalize on this by awarding certificates to passengers afterward proclaiming that they remain Official Space Virgins.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 12, 2014 @02:01PM (#46981259)

    Virgin is trying to get around the issue by claiming it is using a definition of space used by NASA — in the 1960s."

    Well, that's gay. Before you think I'm a homophobe, I'm using a definition used in the 1960s.

    • by Guspaz (556486)

      You think the statement is "happy"?

      • Oh no, it still meant "homosexual" back then, but it wasn't considered derogatory.

        "Gay" == "happy" was more like 1930's slang.

    • As long as you don't think it's an Harley Davidson rider [wikipedia.org], it's alright.

    • Virgin is trying to get around the issue by claiming it is using a definition of space used by NASA — in the 1960s."

      Ah yes, the 1960's "virgin". The dawn of such wicked concepts as free love. Those were very bad times. Before you think me prude, I'm using the definitions from the 1970's and 1980's. Quite groovy of me, if I do say so myself -- I'm using the 2000's definition, of "groovy" AKA "ribbed for her pleasure" -- the latter being a biblically ambiguous reference to gender, fitting for the 2010's.

  • If you know how far you are going above the earth, can't you decide for yourself before purchasing if that qualifies or not? Who cares what anyones definition is but your own if you are the one going? Is the problem if you step outside you may not die quite as quickly because you aren't over the imaginary line?

    It's not like they are going to miss out on "Official Space Certification".

    To me, as long as Virgin actually takes you 50 miles or higher, they have fulfilled what they said they would do.

  • 50 km is 164,042 feet. That's a long way up. Only 543 people have reached an altitude of 50 km or higher.
  • A reasonable definition of space would be based on orbital velocity, not location. Virgin galactic is selling a few minutes of zero-g, similar to, but considerably longer (and much more expensive) than the commercial vomit-comet flights. You could do something similar by dropping a capsule from a high altitude balloon.

    Its true that they are in an area of very low air pressure, but that isn't particularly interesting to passenger .

    Its fine if people want to pay for this, and if calling it "space" will giv

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      So if I'm somewhere between the Sun and Alpha Centauri, but I happen to have no velocity with respect to the Earth, then I'm not in space?

      • i don't know, but you are certainly breaking several laws of physics to do it.

      • Fair enough. I'm happy to count kinetic and potential energy, and them by my definition you are in space.

        If you argue that then sitting on Mercury isn't "space", I'll point out that you will have to have been in "space" to have gotten there.

      • You're somewhere between the Sun and Alpha Centauri? Great! Can you make a little detour to the local planning department office of the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council?

    • You use location if your selling tourism. You use orbital velocity if you view it as a sport. The 50 mile point describes the line between the mesosphere and the thermosphere. The 100km point is a height that can't be reached using air as lift. This point is based on orbital velocity. There is also a 150km point where air no longer drags things out of orbit.
      Virgin Galactic is not claiming suborbatal flight.. So I think it is unfair to use the second two measures.
  • by burisch_research (1095299) on Monday May 12, 2014 @02:05PM (#46981339)

    This is just insane. Going to 50 miles, or 62 miles, or even 200 miles straight up is utterly pointless. It does not advance us at all. It's a gimmick for people with too much money and not enough brain cells. Yes, it might be 'space' (for a few minutes) -- but so what?! This is really old tech. The USA did this in the 50s.

    Getting to orbit is a lot harder, yes; but that's an actual achievement, instead of a publicity stunt. You can actually do useful stuff once you're in orbit. You can't do that from a jumped-up fairground ride.

    I expect this whole fiasco will quietly fade from the public eye, once the backers realize that they've invested heavily in a pig in a poke. If they are smart, they won't plough (plow, for Americans) any more cash into this travesty.

    • I agree that its nothing like going to orbit and doesn't really advance technology.

      Its just a stunt, but if people want to pay for it, I'm OK with them wasting their money. A few hours in a Mig 29 sounds like more fun though.

      • A Mig29 ride would surely be a lot of fun!

        But I'm certain that going up in a Dragon would beat that by at least an order of magnitude.

    • by neilo_1701D (2765337) on Monday May 12, 2014 @02:28PM (#46981711)

      Back in the late '70s and early '80s, there were these expensive gimmicks called "personal computers". They didn't do much at all. Heck; some needed you to flip a whole bunch of switches before they could load a paper tape!

      Then there was this uber-expensing thing from some fruit company. Used a gadget called a "mouse", and you used the mouse to move boxes around on the screen. Cost $10,000 1983 dollars; back when the average income was just under $21,000.

      --

      Just because something is gimmicky today doesn't mean it won't become useful tomorrow. It does advance us, in terms of building an infrastructure that allows these flights to happen at all, in terms of learning to build space-rated hardware within a commercial cost basis. Then the price comes down, the $/lb comes down (over time) and we have a civilian launch system.

      • by NotDrWho (3543773) on Monday May 12, 2014 @02:48PM (#46981965)

        Just because something is gimmicky today doesn't mean it won't become useful tomorrow.

        Conversely, just because some gimmicky things in the past have become useful today doesn't mean that everything considered gimmicky today will become useful in the future. Two words for you on that: flying cars.

        Being open-minded to technology doesn't mean you have to accept EVERY technology or technological idea as practical.

        • Just because something is gimmicky today doesn't mean it won't become useful tomorrow.

          Conversely, just because some gimmicky things in the past have become useful today doesn't mean that everything considered gimmicky today will become useful in the future. Two words for you on that: flying cars.

          Nice counter-example :)

      • we have a civilian launch system

        Or at least a way to launch rich people and vapid celebrities to 50 miles above seal level. Unfortunately, we have no way to keep them from coming back (yet).

      • It will not be useful, not ever, despite your most desperate wishful thinking. Your argument is invalid. 'Straight up' will never work (unless you have enough delta v to escape Earth's gravity, but that's not what we're talking about).

        Infrastructure? This is not a driver for infrastructure. Oh wait -- you count Disneyland as infrastructure. Nuff said.

    • This is just insane. Going to 50 miles, or 62 miles, or even 200 miles straight up is utterly pointless.

      Hey, guess what? Other people aren't you!

      It does not advance us at all.

      Why does it have to?

      It's a gimmick for people with too much money and not enough brain cells.

      Some people would say the same about watching football games, going to watch a funny movie, or posting on Slashdot.

    • I suppose you say the same thing about roller coasters.

    • by yodleboy (982200)
      "Getting to orbit is a lot harder, yes; but that's an actual achievement, instead of a publicity stunt. You can actually do useful stuff once you're in orbit. You can't do that from a jumped-up fairground ride."

      You mean useful like going in speedy circles around the planet for 50 years? Or useful like building a giant space station for 3 or 4 people to go around in speedy circles after the bus has left? What marvelous uses!
      Those newfangled aeroplanes were quite the jumped-up fairground ride in their ea
    • Even orbit is no big deal, really. If you lived in a house with a fenced in yard, orbit is like running around just inside the fence* all the way around the house. So you are at no point more than a few meters away from the house. Orbit is the same, just scaled up.

      What we need to be doing is running down to the corner or across the street or through the woods to grandmother's house. Running around inside a fence is what dogs do, mindlessly making a path in the grass.

      *why inside the fence and not ou

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      It's a passenger vehicle operating in a commercial environment, carrying untrained members of the public. It is re-usable and hopefully reliable. That's a very different set of requirements to what the US was doing in the 50s.

    • by gsslay (807818)

      The methods used by USA in the 50s were completely different. The costs in the 50s were different. The resources used in the 50s were largely "one-shot" disposable. The kind of people on board are completely different and have a completely different attitude to risk.

      You should go back a hundred years or so and mock the people in motorised carriages. After all, it was old tech. They did nothing a good horse couldn't already.

  • At 50 miles, passengers will not qualify for a NASA astronaut badge.

    • by Scutter (18425)

      If they're not a NASA astronaut, why would they?

      • by MobyDisk (75490)

        The Virgin Galactic pilots did. Actually, I just noticed that Virgin Galactic's own site claims that you will get them! lol! whoooops!

        "Later that evening, sitting with your astronaut wings, you know that life will never quite be the same again."

        http://www.virgingalactic.com/... [virgingalactic.com]

        "On return to Earth these pioneering individuals will receive their Virgin Galactic astronaut wings and plenty of images and videos of their experience."

        http://www.ulixtravel.com/virg... [ulixtravel.com]

        Although, according to Space Law: A Treatise [google.com] it says:

        In the US, any person going higher than 50 miles is awarded 'astronaut wings'

        So maybe there is still a chance?

        • by Njovich (553857)

          Note the 'Virgin Galactic astronaut wings', not Nasa or US. Nothing is stopping you from handing out Mobydisk Astronaut Wings for playing Kerbal.

          • by MobyDisk (75490)

            I wonder if they changed that recently, in response. Up until now, everyone who flew on SpaceShipOne got US government astronaut wings. I bet a lot of people will be miffed if they don't get this.

  • by Virtucon (127420) on Monday May 12, 2014 @02:17PM (#46981535)

    We know you have a choice in Space Tourist Travel services and it looks like you picked the wrong one.

    • We are currently awaiting the loading of our complement of small lemon-soaked paper napkins for your comfort, refreshment and hygiene during the journey. Meanwhile we thank you for your patience. The cabin crew will shortly be serving coffee and biscuits again.

  • ... like a bathtub full of saltwater is "the ocean".

    • Sure, because a bathtub full of water is totally like 80% as deep as an ocean.

      I doubt any of the passengers could tell the difference between 50 miles up and 62 miles up.

  • Not 62 miles (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YoungManKlaus (2773165) on Monday May 12, 2014 @03:34PM (#46982523)

    100km you imperial-unit-morons!

  • by holophrastic (221104) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @03:14AM (#46987365)

    Mr. Hertz is "credited" with once-per-second. A great discovery.
    Mr. Karman is "credited" with 100km above sea level. Another innovation.
    Mr. Celsius is "credited" with a scale based on 0 to 100 for ice to steam. Yup, that's some mighty hard thinking.
    Mr. Farenheit is "credited" with a scale based on 0 to 100 for cold to hot, but he screwed up and got a scale based on 0 to 97.6 -- what a retard.

    With all of these super-smart inventions, I'd better claim mine now.

    Bryan's Law of Minimums: there is a minimum countable quantity of any possessable item; it is typically one (1).
    For example, it is impossible to *have* fewer than 1 passport office, without having nothing at all. You also cannot *have* fewer than 1 friend, 1 piece of apple, or 1 desk.

    That's mine. No one else may have it. From now on, every time any scientist counts to 1 as the "necessary first" of a quantity, they must use my unit of measure -- "that given city must have a Bryan passport office", "only the Bryan apple a day keeps the doctor away" (since the second apple does absolutely nothing more), and "my BFF is my Bryan Friend Forever".

    There. I can invent the number 1 too you know -- and my invented "1" has a philosophical level to it, so there!

  • by pslytely psycho (1699190) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @04:07AM (#46987459) Journal
    That the first space tourism would be an orbital hotel? The first steps were always going to be something like this.

    As to not advancing anything, well, lets see. A 100% re-usable sub orbital, relatively spacious passenger craft with the ability to be refueled and re-launched (in theory, at least) in hours. A totally unique liftoff system. A totally unique re-entry (yes, I know, NOT from orbital speed but a pretty damn fine piece of tech). As I understand the rocket is the first solid fuel rocket made to be shut down and re-started.

    Why are we so negative about the very first steps to the commercialization of space? Something most of us dreamed of all our lives while reading the sci-fi that was so dear to us? Is it just because it's a rich playboy showman doing it?

    We didn't get flying cars, and yeah, it ain't a space hotel, but why all the hate?
  • If you've taken a long distance commercial airline flight, you've flown as high as 40,000 feet and 72 percent of the atmosphere was below you. Transatlantic concord passengers flew as high as 60,000 feet above 90 percent of the atmosphere. Virgin Galactic's flights are perfect for those who demand Seenheiser headphones gold-plated monster cables for listing to talk radio. For the rest of us, a commercial airline flight is "close enough."

"Only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core." -- Hannah Arendt.

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