TO THE STARS!
Location: Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas.
My husband Vince and I went to Las Vegas to attend the 2nd Annual Lunar Development Conference, produced by the Space Frontier Foundation and the Space Studies Institute. It’s held in July to coincide with the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing (July 20, 1969), and focuses on a permanent return to the Moon. Topics covered everything from lunar habitats to lunar burials and a range of commercial opportunities.
However, the most interesting aspect of the conference was not on the official agenda-it was the schmoozing. While the formal presentations are always informative, it’s the informal discussions where the action happens at any of these space conferences. That’s where you get the inside, “unofficial” dish, the gossip. That’s where the introductions are made, alliances forged, deals are cut, and brainstorming happens. It’s where the future is created.
One topic of debate that caught my interest was the matter of the label “space tourist.” To speak of space tourism as an industry is one thing, but to refer to someone like multi-millionaire Dennis Tito, who is buying a $20 million ticket for a 10-day stay aboard Mir, as a “tourist” seems rather crass to some. Call them guests, passengers, or clients—but don’t call them tourists; it evokes unflattering images. You know, the kind of hicks that come to San Francisco in the summer and shiver in polyester shorts. After all, you wouldn’t call someone who climbs Mount Everest a “tourist.”
Personally, I am proud to be a space tourist, in spirit anyway. For me, “space tourist” has a nice “power to the people” ring to it. Being a space tourist means that the most incredible experience a human being can have is available just because it’s there, not for any particular “reason.” When space travel is as routine as overseas travel and regular folks like you and I can look out upon the spinning Earth from the void of space with our own eyes, on our own dime, we will truly be a space-faring civilization. Naturally, I could just be blinded by my own zeal, but I don’t find anything inherently offensive about being called a space tourist.
For the space tourist, Las Vegas surprisingly has much to offer. Certainly, the terrain we surveyed on our inbound flight strikingly resembled a lunar landscape. The self-contained splendor of The Strip resort hotels insulates guests from the hostile environment of the searing desert sun and triple-digit temperatures in customized little biospheres. I wonder how long you could stay inside one of those “cities” without ever going outside. We could have been on the Moon and not notice the difference. The gravity, however, might have given it away…
Once the conference was over it was play-time to be tourists! If you’re brave enough to try the Express roller coaster at New York, New York, you won’t have any trouble taking a ride into space. I recommend it for any space tourist in training. But if you’re looking for a good down-to-earth space experience, you’ve GOT to do “Star Trek (TM): The Experience.”
It really is an “experience.” There are certainly lots of wonderful exhibits full of Star Trek artifacts, including a comprehensive timeline of all the events in the Star Trek universe. This is all displayed along a winding path that leads to “the ride.” We line up to wait for our seats. The lights go out! Something is wrong! Suddenly, we are abruptly transported through space…AND time… Coooool! The adventure continues, but I don’t want to give too many spoilers.
Afterwards, the place to unwind is Quark’s on The Promenade. It’s just like the set of Deep Space Nine. There were a couple of “old” Klingons, spinning yarns at the bar, and an eight-foot-tall “new” Klingon swaggering about, hurling insults at Terran weaklings, and even the large-lobed fellow himself. Lots of photo ops and shopping too—everything from tribbles to Klingon Blood Wine and Romulan Ale by the 6-pack. I even scored 6-foot stand-up cutouts of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Great for parties! As I sat there sipping my James Tea Kirk, I thought contentedly to myself, “Today is a good day to die!”