For a country that spent the better part of the 20th century loathing capitalists, Russia’s doing a heck of a job of recovering by raking in money from the Western uber-wealthy dying to go into orbit.
Charles Simonyi, a billionaire who is one of the co-founders of Microsoft, became the world’s fifth space tourist after paying the Russians $25 million for a 12 day round trip to the International Space Station. It would have cost only $22 million, but the Russians are serving Starbucks.
Charging for space travel — why didn’t we think of that first? How the tide has turned. Russians will sell anything now. Heck, last week I bought Khrushchev’s shoes on eBay. One of the heels was a little more beaten down than the other, but it was a good find nonetheless. Russia’s evolution from totalitarianism to capitalism has been swift and apparent. They’ve gone from the evil Stalin, to Khrushchev’s threats of “We will bury you,” to Perestroika, to “Yo, my man, check it out, I got Space Station tickets, only $25 million ‘dead Premier’s’ each.”
There are those who think that NASA should follow the Russian lead and start letting private citizens ride along in return for millions of dollars. It could even help finance the cash strapped agency.
I’m not against the idea of space tourism, just the idea of government-sponsored agencies getting involved in it. There’s still an awful lot we don’t know, and we pay big-time tax money toward programs such as NASA in order to find answers to those questions. Call me crazy, but I just don’t think our astronauts and researchers could devote 100% attention to the tasks at hand with Carrot-Top, Cher or Martha Stewart on board — even though the freeze-dried food would be dee-lish and have a presentation like no other.
Someday maybe the entire space program will be privatized. Getting rid of the government bureaucracy and red tape nightmare might hasten discovery and advancement. Sure, we might have to endure hearing things like, “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for Diet Pepsi!” — and the moon might be re-named the “Trump” — but at least we might get somewhere a little faster.