MOOSE JAW, Sask. - The dream of blasting off into space could actually come true for a science teacher in Moose Jaw, Sask., with some help from his friends.
It sounds like a lofty goal for 37-year-old Stephen Lys, but when a Facebook ad pointed him to an online contest for a trip to space he thought it was too good to pass up.
Now he is in the top 20 Canadian contestants in the Axe Apollo Space Academy contest after creating a Facebook persona called the Saskatchanaut.
He says it's more important to him than just winning a contest for tickets to a rock concert — he sees it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
And he's not there yet. First, Lys has to earn enough votes between now and August to make it as one of the top two contestants in all of Canada.
He says that's why he created "the Saskatchanaut."
“I thought people would get behind a character more than they’d get behind just some guy,” he said.
If Lys is one of the top two votegetters, he will progress to space camp in Orlando, Fla., and if he does well there, he might just end up being chosen to go into space.
The contest is being run by Axe, a company that produces men's grooming products. The space flight will be managed by SXC, a space tourism company.
Bloon - Zero2Infinity's Balloon
The bloon, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/24/bloon-space-balloon-pictures-video_n_935415.html" target="_hplink">a helium-filled balloon</a>, will take a capsule with as many as six people to 118,000 feet -- not quite outer space, but near space. The company expects to make its first commercial flight in 2013. The cost? €110,000, or about $147,000.
NASA announced in September that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/14/nasa-space-launch-system-sls_n_962051.html" target="_hplink">it's developing the Space Launch System (SLS)</a>, a heavy-lift rocket that will one day take humans farther than ever before. The 34-story rocket will carry six astronauts aboard the <a href="http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/mpcv/" target="_hplink">Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle</a>. <a href="http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2392960,00.asp" target="_hplink">According to PC Mag</a>, NASA will spend $18 billion over the next five years developing the SLS. With <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/14/space-shuttle-program-qa-_n_861994.html" target="_hplink">the retirement of the space shuttle program</a>, NASA currently pays Russia around $60 million per person to get American astronauts into space. Remember, there's still time <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/15/nasa-to-hire-new-astronauts_n_1095686.html" target="_hplink">to apply to be an astronaut</a>.
Over 450 "astronauts" have already booked a $200,000 spot on Sir Richard Branson's SpaceShipTwo, a craft that will take passengers to an altitude of 110 km (68.3 miles). Branson hopes to begin commercial flights in 2013, but that date could get pushed back. "We want to be sure we've really tested the craft through and through before turning it over to the astronauts who bought tickets to go up," he said in October, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/18/richard-branson-dedicates_n_1017226.html" target="_hplink">according to the Associated Press</a>. "If it takes a bit longer, we'll take a little bit longer." Passengers will experience about five minutes of weighlessness during the 2 1/2 hour sub-orbital spaceflight.
In December 2010, SpaceX <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/16/spacex-international-space-station_n_927916.html" target="_hplink">became the first private company</a> to have a spacecraft re-enter orbit, <a href="http://www.spacex.com/press.php?page=20101208" target="_hplink">when its Dragon spacecraft</a> orbited earth twice and then landed in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop? The International Space Station. A representative from SpaceX told HuffPost that a Dragon capsule carrying supplies to the ISS will launch in early 2012. It will be the first commercial company to berth a spacecraft with the space station. But you're going to have to be a NASA astronaut to hitch a ride to space with SpaceX, as the company doesn't have any plans in the near future for space tourism.
Blue Origin, the notoriously-secretive company underwritten by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, is developing both orbital and sub-orbital launch vehicles to take people into space. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/03/blue-origin-spaceship-fai_n_947731.html" target="_hplink">The company recently released video</a> of a test of its New Shepard rocket, a three-person capsule and launch vehicle that the company is planning to use to take space tourists "to the edge of space." The cost and timeline of the completion of the New Shepard is unclear. <a href="http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/nasa-awards-next-set-of-commercial-crew-development-agreements-120113774.html" target="_hplink">In April, Blue Origin was awarded</a> $22 million from NASA "to advance commercial crew space transportation system concepts and mature the design and development of elements of their systems, such as launch vehicles and spacecraft."
Space Adventures/Armadillo Aerospace
Space Adventures, a company that has sent seven private citizens to the International Space Station, <a href="http://www.spaceadventures.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=news.viewnews&newsid=791" target="_hplink">announced in 2010</a> that it would partner with Armadillo Aerospace to provide suborbital spaceflights. The <a href="http://www.spaceadventures.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=suborbital.Vehicle_Design" target="_hplink">two-passenger rocket</a> will land and take-off vertically and allow for a 360-degree view of the earth below. According to Jaunted, the rocket will travel 62 miles above the earth. <a href="http://www.engadget.com/2010/05/13/space-adventures-undercuts-virgin-galactic-announces-100-000/" target="_hplink">Engadget reports</a> that a flight to space will set you back $102,000.
Orbital Technologies' Space Hotel
Of course, you'll need somewhere to put your bags once you're in space. Orbital Technologies, a Russian company, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/21/space-hotel-pictures-video_n_931951.html" target="_hplink">is building a space hotel</a> where 7 guests will be able to dine on veal cheeks and wild mushrooms at 217 miles above the earth. The company is planning to open the hotel in 2016. <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/19/russia-space-tourism-idUSLDE77F0PF20110819" target="_hplink">According to Reuters</a>, a five-day stay will set you back a cool $1 million.
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