Travel: Calling All Cashonauts

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, January 1998

Travel: Calling All Cashonauts

Outer space is within your reach — if you have $98,000 of the right stuff
By Bill Vaughn

Neither Rain, nor Sleet, nor...

A bitter slugfest was probably the furthest thing from Lance Armstrong's mind when he announced his much-anticipated comeback to the international peloton last October. But intended or not, his decision to sign a one-year deal with the U.S. Postal Service cycling team triggered a transatlantic fax war with officials from his former employer, the French Cofidis squad, in which Armstrong maintained he had been dropped as a result of his bout with testicular cancer and Cofidis claimed that Armstrong had demanded too much money. The bickering, however, obscured the larger question at hand: Will the 1993 world champion return to form? Armstrong, who underwent two operations and an intense chemotherapy regimen last winter, says he isn't taking anything for granted but thinks that if his current aerobic condition is any indication, he should be able to climb back among the sport's elite. Even so, given what he considers to have been lowball offers from teams here and abroad, skepticism seems to be running high. "Right now I'm damaged goods," admits the 26-year-old cyclist, "but all I need is one good day to shut everybody up."

You've circled the globe on the Concorde, carded an eight-over-par at St. Andrews, supped on the haunches of every game animal in Asia. Now, as you lift your face to the heavens and sigh with a grand millennial weariness, you wonder: What's left?

Well, friend, you're looking at it: For just $98,000, a Seattle firm says it will gladly launch you up there into the stars. Zegrahm Space Voyages is taking reservations for two-and-a-half-hour journeys aboard a cruiser that will soar with six passengers and two pilots into the indigo firmament 62 miles above the earth. According to Zegrahm spokesman Chris Ostendorf, 22 people have already rushed to put down a $5,000 deposit. And in case you think this seems a lot to shell out for 150 minutes of thrill qua terror, Ostendorf points out that it's just a drop in the bucket; the real money that Zegrahm's after is a $10 million carrot dangled by the St. Louis-based X Prize Foundation, which will be awarded to the first group to blast civilians into space twice in a two-week span.

Zegrahm's first civilian space flight is scheduled for December 2001, inaugurating a twice-weekly schedule. The missions will be carried out in stages. First, the cruiser will be lifted to 50,000 feet on the belly of a jet. Then reusable rockets will thrust the craft to its apogee and guide it back to earth. In preflight training sessions, the paying "cadets" will hone their extraterrestrial skills in simulators and will learn how to choreograph the several minutes of orbital weightlessness, during which they'll be free, as they say, to move about the cabin. Besides this enjoyable lightness of being, Zegrahm also promises spectacular views of landmass and ocean from the craft's oversize portholes.

But can anything this much fun be completely safe? "We'll have every safety device a plane would have," assures Ostendorf, "and the vehicle will be fully licensed by the FAA." Whether or not this equals a carefree ride, there is some consolation: In space, remember, no one can hear you scream.

Illustration by Stuart Bradford

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