Launch Date: January 11, 2036
Total travel time (door to door): 3 hours 37 minutes
Flight time (liftoff to landing): 38 minutes 15 seconds
Lift cost: $9.07 per pound / $19.96 per kilogram (2023 US Dollars)
TOTAL TICKET COST
(Note: Individual ticket based on final suited weight at time of loading)
Individual ticket: 195 lbs. x $9.07 = $1,768.65 (2023 US Dollars)
Luggage: 42.54 lbs. x $9.07 = $385.84 (2023 US Dollars)
Total ticket cost: $2,154.49 (2023 US Dollars)
Part 1: Things are only impossible until they’re not
They say there is no sound in space. But sound would become a guidepost for my first trip off-planet. As my wife and I entered the newly opened SpaceX Spaceport in Wilmington, North Carolina, one of seven in encircling North America, a vibrant yet disarming background music welcomed us. As we casually walked towards the launch facility, and throughout transfer to the launch tower, it lingered in the background . . .
But once we arrived at the launch tower, a subtle shift in sound occurred, from vibrant and disarming to echoed and serene; low pitched and hazy tones intermixed with soft voices. It was hard to make out exactly what they were saying, but their cadence “felt” plucked from my own personal memory. And the voices always came from ahead of us, not beside, behind, or above. Always ahead as we kept moving forward.
At first I thought this very distracting. But this feeling quickly turned to comfort. Strange how calming and welcoming such a mix of sounds can be to the soul. By the time we reached the docking arm, I found my body in a very relaxed state. More importantly, I found my mind relaxed as well.
One last pitstop before boarding SpaceX Starship
With a short flight time and locked down seating, we were offered one last pitstop at the docking arm restroom before boarding. It’s important to remember that once strapped in, we wouldn’t be able to unfasten our safety harnesses and therefore unable to use any onboard facilities (besides, they don’t exist for the international flights, just the planetary).
Because of this we opted for the moisture absorbing flight suit, midnight blue and sporting the new Starship logo. Not to go into specifics of the suit design, but rest assured it will keep you dry in case of any unexpected event.
Or, if you’ve already blown your budget on the in-flight “free float” option that automatically unlocks 3 lucky passengers’ seat belts for a supervised 10 minutes of floating, I’d suggest grabbing a pair of adult diapers and just wearing them under your jeans. That’s what a few of the flyers appear to have opted for. Though I’d go brand name rather than generic, just in case.
PanAm luxury returns
As we anticipated boarding, I expected a return of vibrant sound. My flight many years ago on Thai Smiles Airlines came to mind. What a party (even though I’m not the party type). On that flight my wife, myself, and a few family members were taking a flight from Bangkok to Chang Mai, in the north. A very short trip yet it took over almost two hours. Ironic considering our flight today. Once onboard the Thai Smiles craft, we were immediately sparked to life by rapid beats and notes constantly accelerating and reaching highs then swinging back to mid-tones, on and on, throughout the flight. Quite an experience. But, Alas Babylon, this was not to greet me once in my seat, perhaps for the better. Since I was already so relaxed, why stir my heartbeat and brain activity up again?
For passenger flights, the SpaceX Starship remains at the traditional 90 degrees vertical. Boarding was very efficient as all passengers were lined up by nacelle level and in order of their seating before being ushered into their seats. And with no carryon luggage allowed, there were no annoying delays from someone trying to stuff an oversized bag into an undersized overhead storage bin. In fact, there were no overheads in the entire passenger nacelle.
To be honest, since this was my first flight off-planet I did have a few butterflies in my stomach. They quickly had a lot of babies which almost, but not quite, had me reaching for the small retracting hose of the vomit vaccuum conveniently tucked into the very comfortably padded (and generously wide) armrest. By the way, every seat on a SpaceX Starship is considered first-class, though they prefer to call it Luxury Standard. And I can understand why as I was welcomed with the most relaxing seat, far surpassing anything I’ve experienced in a commercial airliner. It reminded me of stories my ancestors had passed down of the golden age of flight when airlines like PanAm took passenger comfort seriously.
One key benefit (other than time savings) is since every seat on a SpaceX Starship is a first class seat, the size, comfort, and ambiance are top notch. Extra-wide and ultra-plush, the SpaceX Starship seat provided me with what could only be described as “extreme comfort” from the moment I nested myself into its form-shifting cradle until I disembarked. The closest comparison I could make would be to the sensation of floating in an old fashioned feather bed; firmly secure yet free. And very calming . . . and somehow reassuring to my inner self. In retrospect, I believe the seat design itself lifted much of my fear about the flight.
Pez, Life Savers, and my favorite – Oreos
Another unique and beneficial design aspect of the SpaceX Starship for passenger flight is the use of nacelle sectioning for the interior fit. For example, the passenger holds consist of multiple seating nacelles. Each nacelle is approximately 8 feet in height and slides easily out of the launch tower and the Starship’s hull (think very, very large PEZ dispenser french kissing another PEZ dispenser, I know, too graphic but accurate). But all passengers are boarded and locked into their seats before the sordid act takes place.
It is then aligned to interior hull tracks and lowered into the hull of the ship. To stick with the quirky old-school candy theme, think of a stack of Life Savers candies all placed within their silver foil wrapping tube – but with the added excitement of that PEZ dispenser loading them in. Same concept. Ingenious actually as each nacelle is easy to store, maintain post-flight, and move around the spaceport’s facilities. Plus, they can be easily replaced as they age out, rather than having to take the entire Starship offline for a complete interior refit.
The nacelles also serve as a life raft (a literal Life Saver so to speak). This is done by sandwiching an emergency nacelle between every two passenger nacelles, basically mimicking an Oreo cookie (passenger nacelle + emergency nacelle + passenger nacelle). So each cookie serves as its own space-worthy life raft. This works in three potential emergency scenarios:
- First, if an incident occurs and the crew is able to lift the ship into a temporary higher orbit, the Oreos can be individually sealed and the emergency nacelle of each can provide oxygen, medical supplies, and other necessities for a 72+ hour period.
- Second, if the ship cannot remain intact during or after liftoff, the Oreos will break away as individual life rafts (like spilling a package of Life Savers). Parachutes automatically deploy, if in atmosphere, and the passengers enjoy a rough ride down. Rough, but a life saver.
- Third, if an incident occurs on re-entry, each Oreo has a heat shield and automatic parachutes will deploy once in atmosphere.
Due to the focus on safety by the SpaceX Starship team, these have never had to be deployed in over 5,000 flights. Plus, computer modeling indicates a .0000001% chance of any of the three scenarios occurring. I’ll take those numbers versus other modes of transportation.
By the way, the number of seats can be easily scaled and consists of a double ring of seats centered around a small emergency stair that links each nacelle to the next. There are a few extra seats tucked in gaps between the stairs and seating rings, I counted about 34 passenger seats, all reclinable for liftoff and landing. There was also a single seat, placed adjacent to the stair, for use by each nacelle’s flight crew member.
Making history, in more ways than one
On that crisp January morning, SpaceX fitted our ship with 6 passenger nacelles and 3 emergency nacelles, for a total of 3 Oreos holding 204 passengers and 3 crew. There was also a small pilot’s nacelle on top of that stack, that housed two flight crew plus communications and navigation equipment, for a total of 5 flight crew. The remaining hull space was used for cargo nacelles (this is where the big money is made) as well as the extra fuel needed to decelerate safely for landing (based on the weight of passengers and cargo).
As we snuggled in, we awaited the next phase of launch prep and then engine startup. We eagerly anticipated being reunited with my wife’s family in Bangkok, just a short monorail ride on the Yellow Line from the SpaceX RLF (regional launch facility) nestled along the Bang Pakong River that opens into the Bay of Thailand.
My first flight off-planet was indeed off to a marvelous start. As my wife and I sat waiting, I grabbed her hand, lifting it to my lips for a gentle kiss. And as I did, a firm and confident voice came over the intercom . . . “Good morning, and welcome aboard the SpaceX Starship (S.S.) Botany Bay.”
What happened next?
After its use as a commercial spaceliner, the SpaceX Starship (S.S.) Botany Bay was converted to a freighter for twice weekly runs between Earth and the first permanent human settlement on Earth’s moon, the Lunar One Colony. At that time the ship was fitted with several cargo container pods around the mid-body of the ship as well as a detachable plasma engine unit (robotically attached after reaching orbit). The plasma engine allowed the ship to reach moon orbit within 36 hours.
In addition, to maximize cargo space within the main hull, a conning tower was attached ship-forward to house crew, communications equipment, and a docking adapter designed to International Docking System Standards (IDSS).
The SpaceX Starship (S.S.) Botany Bay was also key to supplying materials for the establishment of Earth’s first off-planet ship building facility, the Copernicus Ship Yards. After three decades of service, the S.S. Botany Bay was decommissioned and put on display at the SpaceX Regional Launch Facility (RLF) at Arnhem Space Centre in northern Australia. There it continued life as a living museum for local school students, tourists, and SpaceX passengers . . . until a series of unfortunate events would see it brought back to life for one last trek across the stars.
Next up: Part 2- The Launch (coming soon)