It's unlikely that you've heard of PJ King, despite the fact that he's about to set himself apart from most humans who've ever walked the planet. In as soon as 18 months, King could be launching into space as a paying commercial space tourist.
British billionaire Richard Branson's dream of space travel that thousands of people can afford took a leap toward reality with the maiden flight of the world's first commercial spacecraft over California's Mojave Desert.
Richard Garriott had more reason than most to dream the Apollo moon landings would rapidly expand space travel. His father was a NASA astronaut, as were many of his neighbors near Texas' Johnson Space Center.
So here we were at 6:20 Monday morning at Los Angeles International Airport. Despite the hour, a disc jockey played pulsing club music, a soundtrack that soon continued onboard a Virgin America Airbus with "My Other Ride is a Spaceship" emblazoned behind its nose. A 20-minute flight later, the jet landed in Mojave, Calif., where tycoon Richard Branson awaited.
As a female voice coos, "Welcome to space," six passengers in skintight spacesuits unbuckle their seatbelts and somersault in zero gravity, occasionally peeking back at Earth through the private spaceship's large portholes.
An explosion at an airport home to Scaled Composites -- the builder of the first private manned rocket to reach space -- killed two people and left four seriously hurt Thursday, a Kern County Fire Department official says.
A mere three years after Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne skimmed the edge of space to capture the $10-million Ansari X Prize, more than half a dozen companies are furiously building and testing spacecraft designed to take paying passengers on suborbital journeys and beyond.
"I never think of the future" Albert Einstein once said, "It comes soon enough". But at the beginning of the 21st Century even the great scientist might have been taken aback by the pace of scientific and engineering advances of recent times.
Space tourism is being packaged as the ultimate trip -- almost as an extension of a normal flight but with incredible views, the experience of weightlessness and supersonic speeds. Companies such as Virgin Galactic are taking bookings from the rich and famous for the sub-orbital flights they hope to start in 2008.
Who hasn't looked up at the stars and wondered what it must be like to travel through space? Only a fortunate few have made the trip, and at enormous cost. But soon, the excitement and adventure may be within reach of many more of us.
A note from Erick Schonfeld: After six years of writing Future Boy, I'm handing the reins to my colleague Chris Taylor to focus on features for the magazine and my B2Day blog, which you can also subscribe to by e-mail or RSS. Taylor shares my interest in the Internet and new media, but he's also interested in other boundaries of technology, like space, the subject of his first Future Boy column.