The first 90-year old in space?

Perhaps this will be the real life version of Clint Eastwood's Space Cowboys where a bunch of astronauts way past their retirement ages suit up for a space mission.  The difference is Le Roy Gillead, will be a good 30 years older than Eastwood's movie characters.

You see Gillead, who is almost 90 now, was a member of the Tuskegee Airman, the famous group of African American airmen who ruled the skies over Europe in WWII.  Over the weekend, one of the pioneering companies looking to help commercialize space travel, XCOR Aerospace presented Tuskegee Airman Gillead, a ticket to ride along into space aboard the fledgling commercial space transport company's Lynx spacecraft.  The ticket is part of the company's Legacy Flight program that will attempt to attract high-profile historical figures to blast into space or near-space at least. 

While the idea and certainly the good publicity such a mission would generate would go along way to helping promote the nascent space tourism industry, Gillead will have to wait until at least 2012 for the first XCOR craft to launch into space when he will be 93. 

According to a Wall Street Journal article, Gillead is still agile and opinionated and was chosen by his Tuskegee peers to accept the award from XCOR, partly because of his remarkably good health.  If he passes the medical exam required of all would-be space tourists, the San Francisco area resident will receive the first promotional blastoff aboard XCOR's Lynx, the article stated.

XCOR recently teamed up with Rocketship Tours to offer cut-rate prices for their space flights.  The companies said their $95,000 flight package includes a five-night stay at a luxury resort, complete training, medical evaluation and screening, cancellation insurance and, of course, the flight itself, the company said. Reportedly about 20 customers have already signed up to take the flight.

Virgin Galactic, founded by entrepreneur, Richard Branson, is currently offering a similar experience for $200,000. Other space flight groups such as Space Adventures can charge $3 to $5 million for space flights.  Space Adventures sets up flights to the International Space Station and has or will host a variety of high-profile flyers such as ex-Microsoft developer Charles Simonyi, computer game entrepreneur Richard Garriott and tech industry icon Esther Dyson.

Participants in the Rocketship Tours program will travel to the edge of space in XCOR Lynx that is powered by environmentally friendly liquid propelled rocket engines, the company said. XCOR Aerospace aircraft are being used for the fledgling Rocket Racing League. Those aircraft are liquid oxygen rocket-powered jets based on the four-seat canard propeller-based experimental Velocity aircraft.  The Lynx looks like a small private aircraft and takes off and lands like one.  It flies to about a height of 38 miles.

The Wall Street Journal article noted that XCOR has talked with a number of groups -- including representatives of the family of deceased Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry-- about possible television shows featuring space trips as awards for contestants. Nothing firm has been settled.

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