20 April 2004
- Vehicles (None)
Playing in the Space Exploration Sandbox
SpaceFuture speaks with Joe Latrell
by G B Leatherwood
By G.B. Leatherwood

In his article "Bringing the Cost of Space Tourism Down" (SFJ 2004.04.12), Director of Spaceport Associates Derek Webber quotes the Futron/Zogby demand study conducted in 2002: "…(W)hen prices to orbit are reduced to $1 million, then there would be 250/year public space travellers in orbit, and of course the figure would soon get into the thousands once prices drop much below $1 million."

But entrepreneur Joe Latrell, founder and CEO of Beyond-Earth Enterprises (B-EE), sees it differently. "We are still playing in the sandbox in the space exploration business," Latrell said in an April 6, 2004, interview on Dr. David Livingston’s radio program "The Space Show." He insists that B-EE is a commercial space development company with emphasis on "commercial." "We are consumer driven, and this fall we will have a commercial product the general public can easily afford. We will listen to our customers, find out what they want, and redesign our product within ten days."

The product? In lieu of going to space yourself, you will be able to send a prized possession.

Latrell describes it this way: "It is as easy as ordering a book online. There is no application process for "Mission One." If [your item] fits within the nose cone package, you pay the fee and we send you the kit, which contains the envelope to put your item in and a tracking card with your number on it. On launch day, your packet is placed in the nose cone…. You can watch the launch and recovery on our web site in real-time so you can experience the thrill of space flight yourself. When the trip is over, we return your item with a certificate verifying that it went into space."

So you don’t get to go personally, but the price is certainly within reach of anyone wanting to commemorate a birthday, an anniversary, or special occasion. And it will cost far less that the “reasonable” $1 million estimated for a tourist flight in the future--the future that can only come after years of development of vehicles, destinations, and spaceports and billions of dollars, Euros, or other currency. Joe Latrell and B-EE wants to give ordinary people the opportunity to have at least part of themselves experience the thrill of space travel at a price they can afford.

In his interview on "The Space Show," Latrell challenged the optimism of the space tourism advocates, among who are the readers and contributors to SFJ.

In referring to the interest in the X-Prize, he said, "Once you have built the X-Prize vehicle, what are you going to do with it? There is no space tourism business at the present."

On one hand, Latrell is correct: "There is no space tourism business at the present." Why not? Because there is only one vehicle, the Russian Soyuz, capable of carrying only one extra person to one destination, the International Space Station, leaving from and returning to one spaceport, located deep inside Russia. It costs a reported $20 million for this trip, each prospective tourist is tested, screened, probed, prodded, and subjected to months of preparation, just like professional astro/cosmonauts. Not exactly a "family friendly" vacation trip. And even when the US Space Shuttle resumes service (assuming it will sometime in 2005), only the chosen few will reach orbit.

But no business at all? No, that’s not quite right either, and Joe Latrell would agree. After all, that’s why B-EE--"A Commercial Space Development Company--exists." "MissionOne" is just the first step, the first paying product that will pave the way to a much, much larger business to provide ever increasing demand and profits for those brave enough to invest.

Latrell is doing what he can to make this happen.
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G B Leatherwood 20 April 2004
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