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Short Rocket Cruises Could Start in 2001

May 18, 1998

Zero-gravity trips: the tourist boom of the coming century? (Photo: Suntory Ltd.)

An American company is recruiting private citizens for voyages to the ultimate adventure-travel destination--space--and quite a number of Japanese have shown interest in joining the tours. The first launch is scheduled for December 2001, assuming official approval is obtained in the United States. Although details of the space tour have yet to be finalized, four Japanese travel agencies marketing it report receiving over 200 inquiries despite a hefty tag of 98,000 U.S. dollars per person. A handful of Japanese may wind up going virtually for free, moreover, as a beverage company will offer "tickets" on the flights as prizes in a summer quiz competition.

Out-of-This-World Experience
The flight will last two-and-a-half hours, with two-and-a-half minutes spent 100 kilometers above the Earth at "astronaut altitude," where space tourists can experience weightlessness. The seven-day package starts well before the flight, though, as passengers are lectured on astronomy and the history of space travel and receive simulated training in weightlessness prior to departure. On return to Earth, tour participants will attend a reception held in their honor.

The company offering the tour is Zegrahm Space Voyages, a division of a leading U.S. adventure-tourism firm. Passengers will travel to near space in the Space Cruiser, a craft that is now being developed by an aerospace venture company with former National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) members on its staff.

Zegrahm decided in January 1998 to seek applicants in Japan, too, and contracted four travel agents to handle reservations. The 98,000-dollar package includes the fare for the flight, six nights' accommodations, meals, two space suits, flight bag, commemorative video, and other items. Travel to the embarkation site in the United States will not be included, however. A health checkup will be necessary, but anybody fit enough for an international air flight should pass.

Too Few Terrestrial Destinations
Japanese travel agents say they received over 200 inquiries in the month after the tour was announced. They are playing it safe and offering only "temporary" reservations, though, since there is no precedent for space travel and also because insurance rates and passenger safety questions remain to be settled. One of the agents, Japan Travel Bureau (JTB), reports that 45 of the 180 inquiries it received by April were to reserve a seat. Many of them were wealthy company managers in or past their fifties. They were looking for something new, having already visited most major terrestrial destinations, and some said they hoped to commemorate their marriage as they approach their golden years.

Meanwhile, Suntory Ltd. announced that it will offer space-travel tickets to five lucky winners in a summer quiz promotion. The giant Japanese beverage maker will bear travel costs of 10 million yen (74,100 U.S. dollars at 135 to the dollar), the maximum money prize allowed under Japanese law. The five will be chosen by a drawing from those who send in correct answers in a quiz that will be run in newspapers ads and TV commercials for three months starting June 1, 1998.

The first lift-off is scheduled for December 1, 2001, but the Federal Aviation Administration has not yet given its approval, so the schedule is subject to change. Given the high costs involved, the Japanese agents are keeping continual track of the developments. They admit they were a bit worried about finding buyers for such a risky product in the Japanese market, but JTB says it is committing itself to a project that is the "stuff of dreams." It also plans to organize tours to the factory where the Space Cruiser is being developed and to the planned lift-off site in the run-up to December 2001. With commercial space travel projects underway in other countries as well, the day is steadily approaching when the final frontier will be a lot closer to us all.

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Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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