Spaced Out


Private Rocket Plane Goes Supersonic in Test,
Mishap Mars Landing

Bob, this is Gene, and I'm on the surface; and, as I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come - but we believe not too long into the future - I'd like to just [say] what I believe history will record.  That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow.  And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.  Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.

- Eugene Cernan, Apollo 17 Commander, last man to walk on the moon 14 December 1972

Mojave, California - A rocket plane being privately developed for manned suborbital space flights broke the sound barrier Wednesday during its first powered flight, but the supersonic achievement was marred by a partial landing gear collapse that caused it to veer off a Mojave Airport runway.  SpaceShipOne test pilot Brian Binnie was not injured, and the builder, Scaled Composites LLC, said damage to the craft will be easily repaired.  The company said the test was a milestone because it marked the first manned supersonic flight by an aircraft developed by a small company's private, non-government effort.

The craft is being developed by famed aviation designer Burt Rutan for flights to altitudes of 62 miles above Earth.

"Our flight this morning by SpaceShipOne demonstrated that supersonic flight is now the domain of a small company doing privately funded research, without government help," the company said in a statement.  "The flight also represents an important milestone in our efforts to demonstrate that truly low-cost space access is feasible."  The landing mishap was classified as an "incident" because no one was hurt and damage was minor, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Donn Walker in Los Angeles.  Kern County sheriff's Sergeant Bob Daniels, who witnessed the flight and landing, said that when the gear collapsed the craft skidded in a left turn onto a dirt median before coming to a stop.

SpaceShipOne was developed in secret for two years before it was unveiled in April at the airport in the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles.  It began glide tests in August.  Slung beneath a specially designed jet aircraft, SpaceShipOne was carried to an altitude of 48,000 feet Wednesday morning before being released near the desert town of California City.  Binnie initially flew the craft as a glider before beginning a pull-up maneuver and firing the rocket motor.  SpaceShipOne one broke the sound barrier nine seconds later during a steep ascent, said (Scaled Composites).  The craft was traveling near Mach 1.2 when the rocket shut down after firing for a total of 15 seconds.  Binnie then put the craft into a vertical climb that topped out at 68,000 feet, the company said.

During the initial stage of the descent, SpaceShipOne's twin tails - on booms attached to the tips of its stubby wings - were rotated upward to a right angle to increase drag for about a minute.  The pilot then reconfigured the craft to its conventional shape and glided for 12 minutes before touchdown, when the left landing gear retracted.

The United States last conducted manned suborbital flights in the 1960s with its Mercury and X-15 programs.  Rutan's program resembles the latter.  X-15 rocket planes were carried aloft by a B-52 and released.  Success could bring Rutan the $10 million X Prize pledged to the first privately funded manned space flight.  His cutting-edge designs include the Voyager, the first plane to make a nonstop, unrefueled flight around the world.

Source: USA Today 17 December 2003

"Solar Sail" Spacecraft Test Flight Fails

It's time for the human race to enter the solar system.

- Vice President of the US, Dan Quayle

The Russian producer of a prototype "solar sail" spacecraft that sails on the sun's rays said on Monday that the Cosmos 1, a futuristic 40-kilogram device designed to propel spacecraft using sunlight, had failed to make its debut flight during its first experimental launch in the Barents Sea north of the Russian port of Murmansk.  An unnamed official at Russia's leading aviation company NPO Lavochkina said Friday's test had been a failure because it did not separate from the rocket used to launch it.  The device itself was not to blame.

A modified intercontinental ballistic missile called the Volna was fired from a Russian submarine to put the "solar sail" - seen as a cheap means of sending craft to distant planets - into space for a short flight.  Arms-control agreements require the Russians to either discard the rockets or convert them to other uses.  "We are literally taking these missles out of the battlefield," said Louis Freidman, executive director of the Planetary Society.  The spacecraft and rocket likely burned up in the atmosphere upon re-entry or crashed on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula, officials said.

The device is designed to deploy two huge Russian-built, light-weight, Mylar blades (each four stories - 15 metres - tall and together resembling a windmill), to catch streams of ionised particles ejected by the sun and use them to push the craft on its way.  The goal of the mission was to sail the craft for one week, but it could conceivably have kept cruising on the sun's rays for months.  The great advantage of solar sails over conventional propulsion is that the light-weight sails don't require huge loads of rocket fuel.  (At earth's orbit, the maximum thrust from solar pressure is only about .000009 newtons per square metre - equal to about .001 times the weight of a paper clip.

The Planetary Society, a Pasadena, California-based nonprofit organisation dedicated to space exploration, sponsored the $4 million project, which was to take 31 minutes.  In its final version, designers see the sail as having eight blades, making it resemble an umbrella.  Solar-driven spacecraft are slow to accelerate, but over time achieve velocities that make travel across great distances possible.  The sail was designed to be be able to capture enough sunlight to travel to Jupiter and could theoretically travel at 380,000mph, 10 times faster than NASA's Voyager I.  NASA is studying the use of 400-metre-wide solar sails to propel the Interstellar Probe, a mission scheduled for launch in eight or nine years.  A sail could accelerate the probe to sppeds as high as 90 kilometres per second (five times faster than a rocket-powered craft).  It could travel far beyond the solar system in just a few years.

Cameras aboard the craft were to have captured the blades unfurling from compact canisters about the size of a loaf of bread.  The mission was underwritten by Cosmos Studios, an Internet and entertainment company founded by Ann Druyan, the widow of Carl Sagan, and the A&E cable television network.  A decision must now be made whether or not to proceed with phase two of the project (the 8-bladed sail).

The deputy chief engineer at the Academician Makeyev design bureau, which made the missile used for the launch, said the missile had done its job "seamlessly."  The Babakin Space Center, located just outside Moscow, constructed and launched the spacecraft.

The Planetary Society has more than 100,000 dues-paying, space-enthusiast members from 140 countries.  Bruce Murray, the Planetary Society's president, said he is optimistic that the project would continue to go forward.  Itar-Tass news agency quoted the designer of the sail as saying more experiments were planned.

Source: Taken from Reuters, Associated Press, and Scientific American 22-23 July 2001

Owning the Moon

It's not quite as exhilarating a feeling as orbiting the earth, but it's close.
In addition, it has an exotic, bizarre quality due entirely to the nature of the surface below.
The earth from orbit is a delight - offering visual variety and an emotional feeling of belonging down there.
Not so with this withered, sun-seared peach pit out of my window.
There is no comfort to it; it is too stark and barren; its invitation is monotonous and meant for geologists only.

- Michael Collins, Carrying the Fire

The regret on our side is, they used to say years ago, "We are reading about you in science class."
Now they say, "We are reading about you in history class."

- Neil Armstrong July 1999

by Gary Wien

Did you ever gaze up at the moon at night wondering what it would be like to live there?  Writers like H G Wells and Jules Verne filled imaginations with tales from space, and science fiction movies added to the adventure.  In 1969, the world appeared to stand still as Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon and made the impossible possible.  Well, you may never have the chance to go during your lifetime, but you still can proudly own your own piece of the moon thanks to The Lunar Embassy.

The Lunar Embassy ( has been selling property in outer space for over 20 years.  You can currently buy property on the Moon, Mars, Venus and Jupiter's moon.  The company and the property sales are completely legal.  According to the website, M Dennis Hope went to his local US Governmental Office for claim registries in 1980 and made a claim for the entire lunar surface as well as the surface of all the other eight planets of our solar system and their moons.  His claim was registered and he then notified the General Assembly of the United Nations as well as the governments of the United States and Russia.  No one contested the claim.  Mr Hope copyrighted his work with the US copyright office and began selling extraterrestrial properties.

The cost is amazingly affordable.  Roughly US$20 dollars will buy you a chunk of land about the sIze of Manhattan.  The Lunar Embassy has billions and billions of pieces of land available and would love nothing better than to have multitudes of people become property owners in space.  Of course, maintenance is up to you.

The Moon

Since the property sales have begun, The Lunar Embassy has facilitated sales of the Hope Claim to over one million people in 175 countries on Earth.  "Among the property owners," said Mr Hope, "we number two former Presidents of the United States, more than 400 celebrities including Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Tom Hanks, John Travolta, Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes.  We have among us scientists, attorneys, doctors, dentists, journalists, lawmen, plumbers, educators, and people from every walk of life here on Earth."

On July 20th, The Lunar Embassy explained the groundwork for the next step for mankind.  At a press conference held at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, Mr Hope revealed plans for the organisation and development of celestial properties held by over one million people around the world.  "We have reached a point," said Mr Hope," where we can no longer see ourselves merely as property owners.  We are on the verge of becoming a vast community with diverse interests in exploration, experimentation, commerce and tourism.  We want to enjoy life in space, on the moon and other celestial bodies."

Space tourism was recently thrust into the spotlight when Dennis Tito, a Californian businessman and former NASA employee, hitched a ride with two Russian cosmonauts for the international space station.  The trip reportedly cost Tito somewhere in the neighbourhood of 20 million dollars.  It will be a long time before the price is ever within reach for the masses, but space tourism is definitely going to continue.

Space Adventures, a Virginia company that arranged Tito's flight to the International Space Station, has already taken 150 customers to 80,000 feet, just to the edge of the earth's atmosphere, where the darkness of space and the curvature of the earth are visible.  Officials at Space Adventures think they can have a privately built sub-orbital rocket that is able to take passengers on a trip to space for the relatively low price of $98,000 within three years.  The trip would be similar to the one first taken by U S astronaut Alan Shepherd 40 years ago.

"Development of communities of interest," continued Mr Hope, "will spur development in space and on celestial bodies especially the Moon and Mars.  Our announcement comes at a fortuitous time in history.  Think of all that has gone before to make it possible.  In our time we have seen the first space tourist, Mr Tito.  Now it is time for the Lunar Embassy to take the next big step.  Will this next step be a positive impact on all governments and their citizens of Earth?  We certainly hope so."

Source: WebGuide August 2001

Lunafornia Dreamin'

by Carol Lloyd

What do you get when you take the real away from real estate?

Unreal estate, of course.  Otherwise known as space real estate, this intergalactic enterprise zone has been around for centuries.  Some 250 years ago, Prussia's King Frederick deeded the moon to a farmer with "healing powers."  In 1937, one A.D. Lindsay of Ocilla, Georgia, claimed title to all "planets, islands-of-space or other matter."  Since the Space Age got underway in the late 1950s, there's been a steady stream of extraterrestrial claims issuing from every corner of the globe.  In 1966, the moon was annexed by citizens of Geneva, Ohio.  Whether a high-flown fund-raising concept for planetariums or the ultimate romantic novelty item, the very idea of outer space real estate has inspired a motley array of charitable organisations, small start-ups and even governments.

It's also offered an out-of-this-world business model for Lunar Embassy, the most lucrative and well-documented outer space real estate venture in history.  Founded in 1980 by Dennis Hope (a would-be actor, ventriloquist and shoe salesman who dubbed himself "Head Cheese"), the company now boasts over 3.5 million buyers and over $1 million in lunar sales in over 180 countries as well as authorized agents (called ambassadors) in countries as far flung as Australia, Bulgaria and the United Kingdom.  Hope is also selling plots on Mars.  (How true his numbers are is anyone's guess.  Hope did not respond to requests for an interview left by phone at his offices in Las Vegas.)

Whatever the case, the company likes to play on both sides of the proverbial moon.  On the one hand, the company is registered as selling a novelty product.  On the other hand, the website assures buyers that the claims are completely legitimate and the novelty categorisation is simply a ruse to foil frivolous lawsuits.  As quoted in the popular science Web zine, Hope reportedly said: "We're not trying to fool anybody about anything.  The properties we sell are as legitimate as any property you buy anywhere on this planet."

Hope argues that he is the sole proprietor of the moon, the planets and their moons based on the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty, which holds that no nation can claim ownership of property beyond the Earth.  Because the treaty never specified that individuals and companies may not claim ownership of extraterrestrial bodies, Hope says he had a legal right to do so.  So after purportedly filing papers at "his local US Governmental Office for claim registries, the San Francisco County Seat" (no such office exists), he launched what must be the weirdest real estate business of all time.  To shore up his claims, he piles on the "documentary evidence" for his buyers, giving them a deed, a site map, a copy of the Lunar Constitution and Bill of Rights and a copy of Hope's declaration of ownership.

Like so many outlandish enterprises headed by a dude with a computer, an compulsive urge to sell and little else, Lunar Embassy is one of those stories the media can't resist.  Indeed, Hope gives good quote.  When asked what he was selling at a press conference in Beijing, he reportedly answered: "We define it as a kind of novelty gift with the potential of unlimited increase in value.  I have 3.5 million customers, including ex-US Presidents Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and movie stars who have purchased land on the moon."  Over the years, everyone from CNN to Time magazine has told the story of the guy who is flogging plots on the moon.

Silly?  Indubitably.  But that doesn't mean experts have decided it's a triviality to be ignored.  In 2004, the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) developed explicit international legal language that would render "null and void" any ownership claim of a celestial body.  Earlier this year Virgiliu Pop, a Romanian space law expert and member of IISL, published his monograph Unreal Estate: The Men Who Sold the Moon, which chronicles the history of celestial space grabs and their legal ramifications.

Interestingly Pop, like many other space lawyers who have weighed in on the issue, aren't focused on consumer protection so much as the protection of his profession.  "Space law is very complex - it deals with issues as varied as sovereignty in space, pollution in space, registration of satellites," he states in an e-mail.  Since his PhD dissertation for the University of Glasgow deals with property rights in outer space, he's concerned that Hope and other celestial "space oil" salesmen are influencing what should be a serious discussion about how to control space ownership in the future.  "This issue [of unreal estate] has hijacked the public perception of space law," he writes.  The primary issues he's concerned about vis-a-vis space law currently involve how governments determine satellite positioning, and regulating satellite frequencies and other potential conflicts between national uses for outer space.  "In the public mind, space law ... does not mean regulation of the frequency spectrum, it does not mean registration.  For the regular person on the street, space law concerns the sale of extraterrestrial real estate."

If real estate is the coupling of mundane human laws and mundane earthly dirt, then unreal estate is anything but: It's the love child of fantastical legalisms and swinging-on-a-star romance.  Even as terrestrial real estate markets are beginning to dissolve like so many Arctic glaciers, it's important to remember that the market we've been living in has never been about just housing or retail space or class A office space.  It's always been about the imagination, hucksterism and grandiose get-rich-quick schemes.  It's always been about the idea that a piece of paper issued by a government can transfer something as immovable and transcendent as a perimetered plot of a planet.

Just as the moon's round face reminds us of the earthly globe, it's hard not to regard lunar real estate as the quintessential mirror of our strange terrestrial pursuits.  Recently, Lunar Embassy announced a new product line - a lunar city, costing $5,500.  ("This is the opportunity of a lifetime," reads the website, "and should be acted upon as soon as possible.  All aspects of the Lunar Constitution Bill of Rights remain in force with the city parcels as well as the individual plots now sold.  Each city will retain it's mineral rights.")

The name of the first lunar city?  Lunafornia.

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about Bay Area real estate.  She teaches a class on buying your first home in the Bay Area, and another class based on her best-selling career counseling book for creative people, Creating a Life Worth Living.  For more information, email her at

Source: 29 October 2006

Man Prosecuted over Selling Land on Moon

The moon, as seen from the Space Shuttle Columbia

A Dutchman has been charged with fraud after "making a small fortune" selling plots of land on the moon.  Rene Veenema is being prosecuted after complaints from clients who said they paid for, but never received, ownership certificates for their parcels of land in space.  The Telegraaf newspaper reports Veenema, who goes on trial next month, said he made thousands of people happy before his business turned sour.  He claims he sold plots for around £1,000 each through the US-based firm Lunar Embassy.

The American company claims that since 1996, it has sold plots to former US presidents Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter as well as entertainers Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon and David Letterman.  Since then, the moon has sold well in Europe - last year the lots were a popular Valentine's Day gift in Romania - even though few if any buyers can ever hope to set foot on their property.  The paper said Veenema was jailed several weeks ago and that prosecutors are seeking damages in a suit brought by five disappointed investors.  "Like most things I start up, the moon project had a promising start.  But when the rush failed to materialise - I had expected tens of thousands of orders per month - I ordered a car, a house, you name it," he was quoted as saying.  "In fact, I have been pulling this off for more than 10 years," Veenema told the newspaper.  "My employers, my colleagues, my ex-girlfriend, I conned them all."

When he gets out of jail, Veenema said he intends to repay all those he swindled and "learn to stop lying and cheating."

Source: Wednesday 29 January 2003 photo credit Associated Press

From: US Department of State (External Affairs)

Some years ago you purchased via mail order one acre of the Moon - we are sure you still have the Certificate at home somewhere.  It appears that the Moon Certificate of Ownership that you possess is actually a legal document under International Law.

This being the case, the Department would like to offer you $120,000.00 for your acre of land on the Moon as it is holding up construction of our new secret Moonbase.  It is directly in the way of the bypass we are trying to build.

Please contact our website to find details of how you can sell us this land.  It is your patriotic duty to assist with this - in fact if you help us we may even name an airlock after you.

Sincerely Yours,
G Kasse


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