dilluns, 12 de novembre de 2007

High-Tech Tourism

Until recently the only people who could visit the most extreme environments, such as the ocean floor or outer space, were highly trained, often government-funded specialists like scientists, astronauts, and fighter pilots. But all that is changing. Today, or in the not-too-distant future, private individuals with the moxie and the money can or will soon be able to travel just about anywhere on or above Earth. In this slide show, get a taste of the possibilities.—Gaia Remerowski

Visiting the space station Approximate cost per trip:$20 million (add $15 million for the spacewalk)Riding in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, well-heeled individuals can now play astronaut and visit the International Space Station 250 miles above Earth. Soon they will also be able to suit up and take a spacewalk around the station lasting up to one-and-a-half hours. The 10-day trip requires months of training alongside actual astronauts, and some health risks are involved: prolonged weightlessness can wreak havoc on the body, and the long-term effects of space radiation remain unclear. But that hasn't lessened interest among the superrich, four of whom have already taken the trip.

Going suborbital Estimated cost per trip: $200,000Individuals will soon be able to travel into suborbital space, the region just above Earth's atmosphere that begins at about 62 miles up. With less than a week of training, travelers will be shuttled to this suborbital point for a 15-minute ride, including five minutes of weightlessness. Passengers will be able to see the rounded blue edge of Earth below and the black of space above. Companies are now competing to develop a low-cost, reusable shuttle that will make these suborbital trips possible.

Experiencing weightlessness Approximate cost per flight: $4,000Would-be astronauts can now experience zero gravity without leaving the Earth's atmosphere. A modified Boeing 727-200 jet takes passengers high in the sky, then flies in a special parabolic flight path. As the plane arcs, defying the force of gravity, passengers float through the padded cabin almost as if they were flying through the air. A typical flight lasts about an hour and a half, with the parabolic arcs occurring between about 24,000 and 34,000 feet. The higher the arc, the more weightlessness one feels. Almost anyone can participate, but the sensation can induce motion sickness in some (hence the nickname astronauts give their similar training plane, the "vomit comet").

Diving below the North Pole Estimated cost: $95,000Travelers will soon be able to visit the "real" North Pole by diving down 14,000 feet to the bottom of the top of the world. A chartered nuclear-powered icebreaker will shuttle passengers to the pole, then one of two MIR submersibles will take passengers to the Arctic Ocean floor. Passengers will be able to peer through seven-inch-thick acrylic portholes at deep-sea scenery illuminated by the MIR's exterior lights. The expedition to the pole is a one-time event, and the MIR dives will take place in summer 2008.

Descending to the Titanic Approximate cost: $40,000Fans of the movie Titanic and other shipwreck aficionados can now descend two and a half miles in a MIR submersible for an up-close view of the actual Titanic. Dives on the MIRs last 10 to 12 hours, as passengers are piloted around the wreck to appreciate its massive size and once-majestic quarters. Sites visited include the captain's quarters, the huge propellers, and, of course, the bow with the now-famous railing. Specialized underwater cameras record the expedition.

Piloting a personal sub Approximate cost:$15,000 for lessons, $10,000/day to operate the shipWould-be Captain Nemos can learn to pilot a one- to two-person sub themselves. The trip requires a three-day course at an underwater "flight school," where potential pilots learn how to operate the battery-powered sub. Then, with underwater pilot's license in hand, they can strap themselves into the sub and head off on a personal journey. Just over 10 feet long, the subs can descend to depths of 3,000 feet and can travel much faster and maneuver within tighter spaces than traditional submarines. A newer, sleeker version of the sub is slated to launch in 2007.

Flying a MiG fighter Approximate cost: $19,000Top Gun enthusiasts can now fly a legendary MiG, the famed Russian fighter plane first used in World War II. Current versions of these jets travel faster than the speed of sound and can climb as high as 70,000 feet (close to the edge of space). Anyone over 16 with no major health problems is eligible to fly. Though an experienced co-pilot performs most of the flying, passengers can try certain maneuvers. The 30-minute flights, available only in Russia, take place in MiG models ranging from the Fulcrum (similar to an F-18) to the Foxhound, a top-of-the-line combat aircraft.

Font: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/alicia/tourism.html

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