As commercial space travel
grows cheaper by the day and the up and coming $3 billion–plus space hotel
nears its completion stage, one profession moves to strike: travel agents. For years, they have been bowing to huge competition from Expedia and other online booking services and their incomes are drying up faster than a professional golfer with a mistress problem -- until now.
Some travel agents have smartly reorganized their operations around Virgin Galactic's new plan
to blast tourists into space from a rocket launch pad in New Mexico. One of them is Beverly Rother
, a Miami Beach, Fla., agent who is only one of 76 people accredited by Virtuoso, the luxury travel consortium who signed an exclusive deal with Virgin to hawk space travel
. Rother takes us behind the scenes of the entire industry.
"Virgin Galactic's program includes a three-day training program at Spaceport America in New Mexico," explains Rother. From there, Richard Branson's lackeys will hook you up with a Phillippe Starck–designed space suit
, in which you'll undergo G-force and maybe some groovy weightlessness training. Next, it's time to meet your fellow astronauts and learn about your mission.
But don't whip out that credit card just yet -- unless it's your mom's. "The total program costs $200,000 per person," Rother is quick to remind us, and only six astronaut-tourists can fit on the fancy-pants 100-percent-carbon-composite VSS Enterprise
. Of course, she would give you a discount if you can find five other Richie Riches willing to foot the rest of the bill for the flight.
If you're still game for all this futuristic money wastin', here's what happens once you're airborne, according to Rother: "You'll fly to 50,000 feet and hear the countdown," says Rother. "The spaceship releases and, with its hybrid rocket motor, accelerates you into a vertical climb ... You'll be at Mach 3.4. After 90 seconds, the pilots cut the motors and the spaceship will continue to climb to 68 miles above Earth, an altitude of 360,000 feet. Six miles above the space border, you'll experience total silence -- and zero G for the next four to five minutes."
At that point, passengers will actually be told not to buckle up and to float around in zero gravity for the most psychedelic experience outside of a Friday night at Matthew McConaughey
And that's pretty much it -- although you certainly do get to enjoy a 90-second re-entry process that sees the spaceship peaking at six freakin' Gs. This space travel agent doesn't book you to the space hotel, which we don't really believe exists in the first place.