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All Aboard! Boeing Plans to Fly Tourists to Space...With Gov't Help

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While space tourism could be close, there's a catch: "Boeing ... said that the federal government would have to pay much of the development costs in order for the effort to succeed."

"Fly me to the moon, let me sing among the stars," crooned Frank Sinatra. Soon, Old Blue Eyes's dream could be possible.

Boeing announced yesterday that it was entering the fledgling space tourism market, creating plans for a new age of space exploration. The company's seven passenger space buses could be ready as early as 2015, reports the New York Times, and Boeing has already won an $18 million government contract to start developing the program.

“We’re ready now to start talking to prospective customers,” Eric C. Anderson, co-founder and chairman of Space Adventures, the space tourism company based in Virginia that would market the seats for Boeing, told the Times. And while ticket prices have not been decided, the benchmark may already have been set by the Russians, who have been charging $40 million for tourist trips on their Soyuz flights.

But don't get too excited. According to Boeing, the "commercial crew" project needs a lot of government help in order to get off the ground. "At Wednesday’s news conference, Boeing officials said that the federal government would have to pay much of the development costs in order for the effort to succeed," the Times reports, and then quotes John Elbon, program manager for Boeing’s commercial crew effort: "This is an uncertain market. If we had to do this with Boeing investment only and the risk factors were in there, we wouldn’t be able to close the business case."

In other words, this is a risky project, and Boeing doesn't want to take the risk. Instead, it wants the government, and taxpayers, to bear that burden.

That may be easier to stomach if Boeing's recent track record was much more palatable -- but it isn't. Just last month Boeing announced that it's jumbo jet of the future, the 787 "Dreamliner," wouldn't be delivered on time -- yet another delay that has set the project back at least two years.

Customers and taxpayers, then, could be left waiting and waiting, which brings a variation on another Sinatra tune to mind: "I've got the world on a string, but I'm sitting here in limbo."

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