Let me ask you something.
If you had a couple hundred thousand dollars lying around, like in a penny jar or something, would you spend it on a trip to outer space knowing that it could potentially end, let’s say, not well?
Uber rich guys like Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson are betting customers will. At least customers with a few hundred large to burn. They are rapidly building commercial space programs to give money-is-no-object thrill seekers willing to sign a Hold Harmless Waiver the ultimate amusement park ride.
In fact Jeff Bezos, at a recent conference, predicted that one day the solar system will support more than a trillion space visitors, and his Blue Origin rocket company will get them there. I guess he is thinking of turning the solar system into a giant theme park. Or maybe an Amazon distribution center.
All of this sounds pretty cool. Particularly if you like roller coasters and can afford to spend a million dollars to take your family to Bezos Spaceland.
The rest of us will have to plunk down our our hard earned cash to go to more earthbound theme parks for our thrills.
The good news is that the rides on earth are dangerous too.
When I was a kid I enjoyed the thrill of a rickety contraption called the Rotor at a local amusement park. The Rotor was like a giant washing machine on a rapid dry spin cycle. I stood against the wall of the drum and as it started rotating faster and faster the bottom dropped away plastering my helpless body flat against the spinning wall.
Unfortunately, anything projected from the insides of spinning passengers was also plastered against the wall. But everyone who experienced the Rotor smiled. Going that fast you really couldn’t hold your face any other way.
The ride was based on astronaut training equipment which tested human endurance. The Rotor clocked in at 3 Gs. 3 Gs was not the price of admission, but a measure of centrifugal force relative to gravity. Centrifugal force is basically what separates body fluids from bone fragments in a spinning centrifuge.
These days I don’t like things that spin. I get nauseous watching a clock.
But fast is still good. And fortunately there are lots of relatively inexpensive rides to take our breath away from us. And even our lives.
Not too long ago I rode the Kingda Ka roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure. I strapped into a rocket car next to some other idiot with questionable judgement and three-two-oned it atop a hydraulic launch system 50 stories straight up in the air.
The experience of free falling down a track at 128 mph and feeling my face flap uncontrollably with 5 Gs of force only cost me the entry fee to the park, 90 minutes standing nervously in line, and a phone which fell out of my pocket when my view of the limitless sky abruptly transitioned to a finite view of rapidly approaching concrete.
But for a fraction of a second I actually experienced weightlessness.
For the rest of the 50 second ride I experienced sheer panic. In fact, the ride was so quick that only a third of my life passed before my eyes.
If I ever have a little more money to spend I might consider riding the Tower of Terror at Gold Reef City. For only the price of admission and a plane ticket to Johannesburg I can be pushed off an elevator and experience 6.3 Gs falling into a deserted mine shaft.
But I guess nothing can beat the thrill of real space travel. Last week the famed Cosmodrome Rocket Ride in Kazakhstan experienced a failure 31 miles from earth. The capsule, carrying two riders atop a Soyuz MS-10 rocket, jettisoned sideways and plummeted to earth in something euphemistically called a “ballistic reentry”. The capsule, spinning several times per minute, subjected the two passengers to a force seven times that of gravity before the parachute opened bringing the crew safely to earth.
The good news is the passengers experienced weightlessness and survived to tell about it. The bad news is they ended up near the town of Dzhezkazgan and had to walk back to their cars parked somewhere in lot G at the Roscosmos theme park.
And those guys didn’t have to pay two hundred thousand dollars. They actually got paid for risking their lives on the five minute joy ride.
OK, I get the thrill of it all. And maybe it’s just me. But I just don’t see why anyone would pay a quarter of a million dollars for a dangerous ride to outer space just to see the curvature of the earth.
Especially when they could just as easily ride to the bottom of Niagara Falls in a wooden barrel for free.