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Calling Singapore space travellers
LOOKING for an out-of-the-world travel experience? If you have US$100,000 to spare, lots of guts and a healthy heart, and are looking to get away from bustling Singapore, you could find yourself out in space within three minutes.
Singaporeans meeting these criteria could well be adding the tag "Pioneering space traveller" to their social media profiles by the end of next year.
US-based XCOR Space Expeditions is close to making commercial space travel a reality for private individuals through its space shuttle, the XCOR Lynx Mark II, which is slated to whisk passengers out to space by the fourth quarter of 2015. The spacecraft is to take up to four daily flights, with each round-trip taking under an hour.
The spacecraft, at 8.5 m long, 7.3 m wide and 2.2 m tall, seats only two - including the pilot, which leaves all of one seat for aspiring space travellers on each flight, so being a pioneering space traveller could be a lonely business.
There will, however, be little time for loneliness. The adventure begins with a horizontal take-off from the XCOR spaceport in the southern Caribbean island of Curacao, with the spacecraft being propelled across the boundary into space - 103 km above sea level - within three minutes, accelerating at the speed of sound.
Plonking down that US$100,000 would have just bought you the seat, but here is why you need some daring and a strong ticker: The pilot will switch off the engine of the space shuttle once it reaches space to go into a glide and to eventually allow for a smoother journey back.
The spacecraft will hover in space for about six minutes. This is when you experience weightlessness and can view Earth from up high.
On the descent following, the pilot will perform a "pullout manoeuvre", creating the thrill of 4G gravity forces for 10 to 20 seconds. After this, the glide back home will be at a more sedate speed for about 40 minutes.
The pilot can even customize the descent for you, by steering the aircraft during the return trip towards a particular spot that you want to see from Out There - be it the Grand Canyon or the Great Wall of China.
The adventure element is heightened by your on-board "duties": Yes, even at the price of that ticket, you are not to just sit there. You will be co-pilot, perform navigational tasks such as reading instruments and ensuring that the dials are holding steady.
The icing on this cake is that you are eligible to call yourself an astronaut after the trip, for having breached the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space, which is more than 100 km above sea level.
Not bad at all for a happening holiday.
Singaporeans who can afford it and can stomach the experience need to contact local company Crystal Time, Singapore's official distributor of Luminox, the Swiss timepiece picked as the official watch of the XCOR pilots and the partner of the American commercial space travel company.
The week-long Luminox Space Roadshow began on Friday in Orchard Road, where a model of the space shuttle is on display. Pamela Tan, the brand manager of Luminox Singapore, told The Business Times that the company had already received strong interest from three individuals here; worldwide, 300 people have signed up.
Ms Tan said those interested will be asked to go for a medical check-up to determine their medical fitness. Heart conditions, in particular, may disqualify one from making the trip. "If you can't do a roller-coaster ride, for example, then this is definitely not for you!" she quipped. She said that, as with other adventure activities that have grown in popularity among Singaporeans, the interest in space travel here will peak. "Especially with the growing level of affluence in Singapore, travelling is proliferating, particularly among the younger generation."
The appeal of travel - the kind that entails just exploring planet Earth, that is - has clearly caught on among Singaporeans. A recent MasterCard study found that the people here venture overseas once every three months, making them one of the most well-travelled in the Asia-Pacific.
South-east Asia is the most popular destination among Singaporeans, especially those aged 18 to 24; at 13 per cent, they form the third-largest group of Singaporeans venturing overseas.
The biggest group of travellers are adults who are single or married but without children, at 43 per cent, followed by adults married with children under 11 years old (26 per cent).
Single or married-without-children travellers spend an average of S$2,241 a head on their holidays - less than what adults with older and younger children spend (S$4,266 and S$3,160 respectively).
Another increasingly significant bracket of Singapore travellers are the seniors, those aged 55 to 65. Although they account for just 6 per cent of the market, they are relatively big spenders - S$3,768 a head - possibly because more than half of them travel further afield than South-east Asia, and perhaps also because these retirees or near-retirees have a penchant for the finer things in life.