Space tourism in Andalucía?

Ten years ago, the UN General Assembly declared 12 April as the International Day of Human Space Flight. Also this year the world celebrates the 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's flight. With such euphoria you can easily be inspired to experience something similar - zero gravity, or at least to fly to the edge of space to have a look at our blue planet.

On the grounds that many inventions, which at first cost lots of money, have become much cheaper over time, you might think that 60 years later it might no longer be an extravagant idea. There might even be no need to go as far as the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan or to Cape Canaveral in Florida. As it turned out, launching into to 'space' was meant to be possible within about 200 kilometres of Malaga.

Ten years ago, our own Andalucía bravely declared itself a space tourism destination. Wealthy passengers were promised that in Seville they would be able to experience the sensation of space travel on an Airbus, modified for parabolic flights. In 2011, 25 seconds of freefall were expected to cost 5,000 euros. Five years later, the price had increased to 7,000 euros when the subject of space tourism was revisited. I remember the headlines in local newspapers announced "Space travel for tourists in Andalucía would be a reality by 2018". Knowing that the Airbus factory is in Seville, you might assume that the project was not a dream but a reality. However, on calling the Seville tourist office this April, they were completely unaware of any pending space scheme.

Fortunately, a couple of years ago, another space experience alternative appeared in Andalucía. This time it was Cordoba that ambitiously proclaimed itself an arena for low-cost stratospheric flights. Flying to the edge of space in a specially designed air balloon with a capsule was anticipated by the end of 2019 or early 2020. For extra reassurance, it was stressed that because of low wind turbulence, Cordoba Airport was a perfect spaceport for the balloon, fuelled by helium gas. Nevertheless, despite any wind advantages, the price might still be a significant obstacle for many. Compared to Seville, Cordoba was seeking wealthier people who wouldn't mind paying about 110,000 euros for a couple of hours' flight. Ironically, before it could be determined whether their planned opportunity would be successful or not, the space project was moved to Villacarrillo in Jaén province, where the experimental flight centre, managed by the Andalusian Foundation for Aerospace Development, is located.

Recent sources, from February this year, stated that the flights would take place in 2021. However, in Jaén's city hall I was assured that they had never heard of this space project and advised to contact the spacedrome in Villacarrillo directly. There, I actually received confirmation that an experimental balloon flight had really been carried out, but that they have no information about the development of the project. To sustain my hope of becoming a 'spaceman', I had to call the company directly; the office is located in Barcelona, but after dialling the number from their site I heard the unexpected message, "The number you have dialled does not exist."

It looks like my space dream must wait a little longer. Even if there were still websites where you can reserve your seat in the balloon or aeroplane launched from Andalusian soil to the heights, I now have my doubts; or rather I am less naïve or more realistic.