Over-the-Counter Space Travel Austrian Discount Supermarket Offers Sub-Orbital Flights

The Austrian branch of discount supermarket chain Penny Markt has begun offering tickets for suborbital space flights. For €210,000, anyone can sign up, assuming they don't have claustrophobia. But ticket buyers beware. The first flight won't take place until 2011, if at all.
A number of companies are betting that space tourism will be a lucrative business in coming years. Here, would be space tourists train at a facility in Moscow.

A number of companies are betting that space tourism will be a lucrative business in coming years. Here, would be space tourists train at a facility in Moscow.

Foto: MAXIM MARMUR/ AFP

It's the kind of product warning one doesn't often see on the shelves at your local supermarket. Those with claustrophobia, motion sickness or asthma, reads the small print, should spend their money elsewhere. And at €209,555 ($313,955), the price tag too is a little out of the ordinary.

But the discount supermarket chain Penny Markt doesn't just sell groceries. As of Thursday, shoppers can pony up a small fortune for a trip into space. All inclusive.

Penny Markt, owned by the Germany-based REWE Group, is offering the space trips in cooperation with Rocketplane Global, a company based in Oklahoma. The package includes business-class flights to and from the launch pad, training, and a post trip party. The actual space flight lasts about one hour from take-off to landing, includes three to four minutes of weightlessness, and achieves a maximum altitude of 330,000 feet, according to the Rocketplane Web site. The spaceship is little more than a specially outfitted, six-seater airplane equipped with two turbojet engines and a rocket engine.

Something of a Mystery

Martin Fast, head of REWE Austria Touristik, insisted that the flights were "no marketing gag," in an interview with the Austrian daily Kurier. Still, the offer is meant to draw attention to Penny Markt's entry into the package tour business.

Just when Rocketplane might enter the space travel business, on the other hand, remains something of a mystery. The company has not yet carried out a single commercial suborbital flight and has been keeping a remarkably low profile during the economic crisis due to funding difficulties. At the 2009 Space Access Conference April, Charles Lauer, Rocketplane's Vice President of Business Development, admitted that the company needed more than $100 million of additional funding, according to MSNBC.

Notoriously Unreliable

A spokesman for Space Travellers, which sells tickets for Rocketplane's flights in Germany, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the initial flight likely wouldn't take place before 2011, before adding that timelines in the commercial spaceflight business have proven notoriously unreliable.

All of which means that shoppers in Austria might want to wait awhile before rushing to their nearest Penny Markt to book a ticket to space. But if you do decide to reserve a ticket, head to your doctor first. Before getting on Rocketplane's spaceship, you have to submit an EKG.

cgh -- with wire reports
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