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San Diego Space Society launches out of this world from South Park

By David Harvey
SDUN Reporter

Astronauts David Scott and James Irwin briefed reporters about the Lunar Rover at the Kennedy Space Center prior to the Apollo 15 moon launch. (Courtesy Jeff Berkwits)

Governing members of the San Diego Space Society, a two-year-old organization dedicated to space exploration education and outreach, will soon be in the business of sending people into space.

SDSS President Jesse Clark and Secretary Chris Radcliff said the new Space Traveler’s Emporium, opening at the corner of 30th and Grape streets on July 17, will be one of the first space-tourism travel agencies.

“We’re going to sell things that people would probably buy if they were traveling to space, because there is a possibility that you can actually do that now,” Clark said.

The storefront is designed like a small gift shop, selling posters, T-shirts, and even space suits—currently modeled by a mannequin that Clark has nicknamed Marsha White. More importantly, the Emporium will offer tickets for suborbital flight—near-space sightseeing flights set to begin by 2015—for the hefty fee of $100,000 to $200,000 a person.

Radcliff explained that several companies—including Virgin Galactic, the Richard Branson-funded commercial space project—are finalizing tests on space flights and equipment. However, Radcliff said most people read about billionaires paying millions to fly into space with Russian astronauts and don’t ever consider it a possibility that they could go as well.

“I don’t believe it when people say there is no interest in space,” Radcliff said. “There’s tons of interest. People just can’t picture a path between them and space.”

Clark and Radcliff said that after years of researching private and commercial space travel, they are in a position to offer a service that isn’t provided anywhere. They’re going to help people become space tourists.

The Emporium staff (which as of now is just Radcliff and Clark) will act as space travel guides, providing comprehensive information about space camp, the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah—where volunteers test equipment by living in a space-like environment and only performing outside tasks in full space-suits for two weeks—and, of course, how to book a trip on commercial or private space flights.

The Emporium—equal parts living room, lab and gift shop—will begin operating with SDSS funds from grants and the membership fees of the roughly 130 members. However, Clark and Radcliff are in the process of applying the SDSS—a regional branch of the National Space Society—for full non-profit status, which will open further revenue sources in the form of donations.

Along with promoting space tourism, the Emporium will maintain a library for Space Society members and a space-travel supply shop and will host Space Society workshops, meetings and events.

The grand opening is scheduled to coincide with the South Park summer Walkabout, an evening event where local shops extend their hours and offer promotions. The Space Traveler’s Emporium will present the documentary “Moon Beat,” a 2009 film featuring interviews with the journalists who covered NASA’s space race with Russia in the 1960s.

“Moon Beat” director and producer Kevin Stirling, who has been interested in Space exploration himself for decades, is scheduled to speak at the screening.

“It only took nine years for America to get [to the moon] after JFK’s famous speech,” Stirling said. “Most folks still looked at that as very futuristic, that it could only be done by professional astronauts. We can branch that out now to excite, educate and entice people, especially young people, to imagine themselves [traveling in space].”

While Clark hopes the film screening will encourage people to celebrate the history of space exploration, he said the Emporium’s main focus as the space-tourism industry evolves will be to develop interest in space exploration via science competitions, as well as building model rockets and space rovers. The SDSS already has one-quarter-sized scale models of all the Mars rovers, and plans on building another when the next rover is launched.

“The idea is that the store and events will draw people into the back [of the store], what we call the space activities lab,” Clark said. “One of the main functions of the San Diego Space Society is that we want to let people know that they can participate in space exploration. It’s not just about NASA.”

One of the biggest San Diego Space Society projects to date was organizing the SpaceUp unconference—a popular conference format in the technology and tourism industries where all participants make presentations. More than 100 industry leaders and space enthusiasts met at the San Diego Air and Space Museum in February to explore the future of space travel through discussion groups and presentations.

Derek Nye, a Miramar College Aviation Airframe and Powerplant Certification student, began working with the Space Society at SpaceUp. Nye was asked to compose some electronic, space-themed music—a hobby of his—for the event. However, because Nye’s real passion is rocketry, he said the SpaceUp was an opportunity to make connections for future job prospects and meet people with common interests.

“I want to be able to work with companies like SpaceX, XCOR and NASA, and it was awesome because they were all there,” Nye said.

Nye said that because of the conference, he joined the San Diego Space Society, and has been working at the Space Traveler’s Emporium along with Clark, Radcliff and member Erik Hall to get the Emporium ready for the grand opening. Nye said he is looking forward to using the space to manage and assist students with building model rockets and other space related engineering project competitions—competitions that Radcliff said are scarce in the common science classroom.

“One of the things we found is that organizations like the National Space Society or other groups that would put on these challenges were lamenting that no one would join the challenge, and then teachers all said, ‘Oh, we’d love to have things to do with our kids that were space-science related,’” Radcliff said.

A workspace in the Emporium will be allotted for students’ science projects, and two large lockers are already on site for the storage of parts and tools.

Radcliff and Clark said they hope that shops like the Space Traveler’s Emporium will be replicated across the nation, much like the SpaceUp unconference, which is being mimicked by Space Societies in Washington D.C. and Vancouver.

“The Emporium and its mission are great,” Stirling said. “If they could copy that and put it out in cities all over the country it would be wonderful. People are hungry for that and they want to see the space program continue, they just hope maybe there’s a ticket for them.”

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