Outside magazine, May 1995
Admit it: every time you see clips of Alan Shepard bashing golf balls on the Moon back in 1971, you wonder if mankind's leisure pursuits might be more fun in outer space. Well, they might. For example, while Mercury's temperatures aren't ideal--highs can hit 620 degrees Fahrenheit--the place would be a dream for properly outfitted mountain-bikers: a planet's worth of Moab, Utah, without the trail restrictions.
Unfortunately, the traditional organizer of American space adventure, NASA, isn't getting the job done. The main reason: budget constraints. The last can-do vision offered by a president--George Bush's 1989 Space Exploration Initiative, a plan to put humans on Mars by 2019--was laughed out of Congress, thanks to its whopping $400 billion price tag.
But as writer B. Alexander Howerton explains in his new book, Free Space, private-sector players are stepping in, many of them former NASA employees and aerospace veterans. Howerton, a sci-fi buff and aerospace stock analyst, profiles a dozen companies that intend to explore, exploit, or otherwise pave the way to space in the coming decades. The motive, obviously, is profit. And while there is a predictably schlock side to the commercialization of space--one group hopes to finance a planned $1.27 billion lunar colony through souvenir sales and production of "a major motion picture"--there's a good side, too. The rocket engine of capitalism dictates that if there's money to be made in a private space race, an intergalactic land rush could follow.
Of course, it's early to start buying lunar luggage. These schemes require tremendous amounts of risk capital, and there's no guarantee that investors will leap into the void. But for just a moment, let's get on board with Howerton--"Space is our playground," he exults--and look at the possible galaxy of opportunities for outdoor types.
Mars Needs Active Lifestylers
Zubrin is right about those nifty Martian challenges. At 88,600 feet, Olympus Mons makes Mount Everest look like it should be called Gidget's Pimple. Climbers wanting aboard ought to bone up on science. Zubrin says he'll initially need "two Scotties and two Spocks," folks who can fix spacecraft and run topographic surveys. Later launches will include "doctors, teachers, and--hopefully--no lawyers."
The Love Float
Among many enticements, House says he'll outfit weightless vacationers with wings, an experience "very similar to hang gliding." He'll also offer "zero-g love grottoes." Will weightlessness affect sexual performance? "To my knowledge," he says, "nothing should prevent you from doing whatever you want. The equalized pressure might even give you greater endurance."
Get Your Feet Wet Now
Chamberland invites people to join him in central Florida for one-day site surveys in the Atlantic Ocean. All you need is scuba certification and a Captain Kirkian "drive to participate."
Being There by Staying Put
David Gump, LunaCorp's 44-year-old founder, is negotiating with two parks to build his lunar rover exhibit. If it happens, Nintendo junkies will finally be able to justify their addiction: Using joysticks and real-time video, they'll help the wheeled rovers explore the lunar surface.