It's hard to believe that 40 years ago this week, Apollo 11 touched down on the surface of the moon. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were the first to take in the view of Earth from this orbiting satellite of our planet. Until July 20, 1969, we could only speculate what the surface of the moon was truly like, including the decreased amount of gravity which is only 1/6th of that on Earth. In addition to the video and photographs that were taken during their surveying of the moon surface, the astronauts also brought back some "moon rocks", many of which today are in a climate controlled storage facility at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Even to this day, scientists continue to study these historical artifacts from the moon.
With the space shuttle missions (now dealing primarily with the completion of the International Space Station) scheduled to conclude in late 2010, the big question is what's next? It has been talked about over the past few years that an initiative will be put into place for new space vehicles to be built, along with ambitions to go back to the moon and perhaps even have astronauts set foot on Mars. It seems likely that these future journeys by NASA may not take place until at least 2020. In the meantime, will some private sector entity continue to stir the interest of traveling into space, or even make the moon a tourist destination? The answer to this is seems to be yes, at least when it comes to such companies as Virgin Galactic. This spaceline is working toward having the first sub-orbital private flights. Like any entrepreneurial endeavor, they have picked the location for where flights would originate (the Mojave Desert in New Mexico), set a ticket price ($200,000), and are in the process of building and testing the future spacecrafts. As for when the flights are going to happen, that's still yet to be determined. And remember this is just to fly outside of the Earth's atmosphere, not to cruise over to the moon or any other planetary destinations. Guess you could pack lightly for this fantastic voyage. In case you're wondering at last check 300 tickets have been sold.
Needless to say the price to be one of the first non-astronauts in space is expensive, let alone not knowing how safe these trips may end up being. But would it be an out of this world experience that you would probably never forget. In my lifetime, I would can only dream that I might be able to go into space or to the moon some day. It's too bad NASA never got that tv media personalities into space program off the ground...however I'll hold out hope it may come around in a couple more decades. Until then, a trip to one of the many science museums, taking a peek through a high powered telescope and watching an occasional documentary on space will have to do. Otherwise, the sky is the limit on where in space humans may be able to travel next.
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