x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Visiting the final frontier

The grind of the 21st century throws up obstacles at every turn.Nikolaus Oliver is on hand with advice to guide you through. This week: boldly paying to go where few have gone before.

Serge Bloch / www.marlenaagency.com
Serge Bloch / www.marlenaagency.com

The grind of the 21st century throws up obstacles at every turn. Nikolaus Oliver is on hand with advice to guide you through. This week: boldly paying to go where few have gone before It is, as every television addict knows, the final frontier. The place to boldly go where no man has gone before. The place where mustard-coloured Lycra is always in fashion. The place where fitness levels and engineering standards are low, to judge by the fact that every few minutes a chubby Scotsman cries out that "the engines cannae take it, Captain?"

But now it seems that quite a few people are set to go where no one has gone before. Sir Richard Branson, who started out in prog rock and went on to do trains and planes and boats (he never did do automobiles, although he had a fleeting penchant for hot air balloons), is launching the first commercial space tourism facility called - wait for it - the Enterprise. There's already a very nice website, full of futuristic drawings and photos of Sir Richard and his mum "rolling out" - no explanation what this is - the VMS Eve (named after Mum). VMS means Virgin Mother Ship. Virgin mother? Eve? There seems to be a slightly inappropriate thread of theology woven into all this.

My favourite part of the website is a section called Safety, which shows a picture of a man in a boiler suit throwing a paper aeroplane. Hmmm. Memory may be playing tricks on me, but my boyish recollection of paper aeroplanes is that they fly briefly and erratically before crash-landing into the furniture. Not quite the belt and braces approach to safety I'd like to see Sir Richard pursuing. Space tourism is going to be quite costly and - I'm just saying, Sir Richard - not all that satisfying. The round trip will cost you roughly Dh593,104 and lasts only three hours, although you have to train for a week beforehand. You will be weightless for three minutes. That works out at Dh197,701 per minute for a sensation I gather is not too dissimilar to floating in the pool at the Shangri-La.

There is a local interest to this story. Dubai resident Namira Salim is booked in one of the first 100 places. Go boldly, Namira. So, the final frontier is well and truly breached and, before long, Sir Richard's space hotels will be crowded with happy holidaymakers. I only hope that the Germans won't be up to their old tricks, putting their towels down on the space equivalent of the poolside recliners before anyone else gets a look in.