The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

One of the first tourists to fly on Rocketplane Ltd’s vehicle may be a 65-year-old grandmother. (credit: Rocketplane Ltd.)

Go granny go!

Reda Anderson, after having conquered Machu Pichu, The Gobi Desert, and the Titanic, wants to be the first suborbital tourist. Sam Dinkin from The Space Review met her for a sushi dinner in Oklahoma City, George French’s treat.

The Space Review: You want to tell me about your trip to the Titantic?

Reda Anderson: I took my 11-year old granddaughter who’s very mature, precocious. Before I went, I asked them, “Can my 11-year old granddaughter dive if she wants to?” They said she could dive. At the time, I had not chosen whether I was going to dive or not because I had a slight claustraphobia, but at any rate I decided to dive. When we get to the ship, the Keldysh, I notice there was a very large man, larger than you, who was diving. I got the approval of my Mir (Russian submersible) mate, Nick, before I asked the question, “OK if she can dive, why can’t four of us go in the ship? Three paying passengers and I would split the cost with her.” My issue was that I weigh 130 pounds [60 kg]. She weighs 120 pounds [55 kg]. Together, there’s 250 pounds [115 kg] for the two of us. “The man has to be 250 pounds… Together we weigh less than that.” I am thinking weight. They said no.

TSR: No, it’s air.

Anderson: That’s exactly what it is. That’s what they said. I don’t know this technically. I am still arguing the point, “She is small. I’m not large. The two of us weigh less than this man.”

TSR: For Rocketplane it will be weight. Oxygen is pretty cheap if you are only going fifteen minutes.

Anderson: This had to do with the Titanic being down 12,500 feet [3,800 meters]. Aside from having the money, you have to have a little bit of nerve to go into space. It’s the same with the Titanic. I didn’t realize, of the two hundred people who have gone down to the Titanic, less than 20 women went. I had no clue that few people had gone down.

TSR: 10% was my guess.

Anderson: Less than 200 have gone down and less than 20 are women. I find that astounding.

TSR: You ever been to Antarctica?

I think this is a beginning of a new age. I think at the price we are doing it now, you’re going to get essentially the cream of the crop.

Anderson: Yes, I went there last year in March. And I loved it. It was put on by Quark [Expeditions’] Mike McDowell. [Founder and former President of Space Adventures.] He is absolutely top notch. I met him. He is just top notch. He also was involved in the Titanic thing which I didn’t know until I got there. I would do anything that that man does. Because it is top notch. Whatever that man does, I would do it. All he needs to say is Reda, here is where you need to be and I will be there. He is doing the North Pole next time. You go diving in a submersible.


TSR: Why do you want to go on a Rocketplane flight? Do you want to be part of history? Fun? Divine awe?

Anderson: No. I have no ego. I am not religious. I don’t have any of that. I don’t need bragging rights or anything. I like world-class events. To do something like that is a world-class event.

TSR: Sure! It will be the biggest thing that day, that week, and maybe even that year.

Anderson: I think this is a beginning of a new age. I think at the price we are doing it now, you’re going to get essentially the cream of the crop. You’ll get the person who has a lot of money. Who has extra money, a lot of discretionary money.

TSR: That really irks me, you know. I was reading in the Wall Street Journal, “Let Virgin Galactic offer private harbor tours to rich tourists.” (“The Discovery...and Beyond”, August 1, 2005, subscription required.) I thought, “That really irks me. Only rich people get to go.”

Does the prospect of dying make the flight more alluring or less alluring?

Anderson: It’s not a factor. I was telling the man from BBC today, “I had a friend who said, ‘Reda, why would you do this, you could get hurt!’” I said, “Hurt?! We’re not talking hurt here. We are talking pulverized. You can’t get hurt, you get pulverized. You’re gonna get vaporized. There is no part of your physical body at all that will ever be seen again. It will be instantaneous.”

In the dive to the Titanic, they give you a millimeter-thick suit that you put on so it will look official. It’s very nice. I said, “What’s this for, it certainly isn’t to keep me warm. It must be fire retardant. What’s the purpose of that? Give me a break. If there’s a fire, you’re toast. Literally, you are toast.”

Rage at mortal paradox

TSR: Have you done everything you want to do otherwise?

Anderson: Space is not going to be enough. In fact, it’s almost insulting to only be able to go up 50 miles [80 kilometers]. I have never said this before. I am 65 years old. I have always had a very, very strong feeling about time constraints in life. I have always been mad at God or the Creator.

TSR: You were born too early.

Anderson: No, I am mad that I am born with this short time frame. That irritates the hell out of me. My first question to God when I get to Heaven if there is such a place, I will ask he, she or it, “What is this 70-year life span? There is so much to do and only 70 years to do it. I have to sleep one third of the time and bathe.”

TSR: When I was born, I was a planned baby. My parents are murderers. They knew I was going to die sooner or later.

Anderson: I like that. I want to finish my point. They will take you up to 50 miles up in this machine they are inventing. When you get up that far, you will only see a limited amount.

TSR: You will only see about 1,600 kilometers.

Anderson: My analogy is living on Earth is like living in a house, but only living in the living room and never seeing the rest of the house. You can’t even see the rest of the house. You don’t know who lives back there.

TSR: It’s more like only living in the hot tub.

Anderson: It’s a teaser.

TSR: Even at 50 miles up, you are going to see less than 1% of the Earth’s surface.

Anderson: It’s a teaser. Since I am 65, I have to look at the rest of my life and predict, “How much time do I have left, to do what?”

TSR: It’s a good packing problem.

Anderson: It’s a logistics facility problem.

TSR: Today was your first no-gravity flight. Why did you decide to do one of the suborbital flights before you even have gone on one of these parabolic airplane flights?

Anderson: I am very busy. I am trying to schedule Space Camp in Huntsville and Zero G flights in Florida. But I haven’t been able to fit it into my schedule yet. Then Chuck Lauer of Rocketplane said, “We are going to do this with a whole group of people.” He says, “Reda, come on down.” I was thinking, “I don’t have time to do this because I am planning another trip in September.” But I can cross it off my list.


TSR: What are you going to do with your estate when you’re all done? Are you going to give it over for a space colonization foundation? You have a legacy you want to leave.

I think it will be fun. They will have a party. I will have my son and my family and we will make a week-long party out of it.

Anderson: I have one son. He’s a very good son. He’s very nice to me. We get along excellently and we always have. He calls me every day and emails me. He’s concerned. He checks on me. He has a very busy life, but takes care of his mother. He is very respectful of the things I do and very supportive of my craziness. If there is anything left over, he gets it. My idea is spending this money on spaceflight. I say, “I am spending more of your inheritance. Here’s what I am doing.” He says, “Go ahead, don’t worry about it.”

TSR: That’s what I tell my parents too. What do you think your ideal is for a perfect four-day experience leading up to your spaceflight?

Anderson: I would like for it to start long before the four days. I would like to meet the person I am traveling with. I am ready to meet them right now.

TSR: As it gets closer to the time, you are not really focused on the centrifuges, the lead up, the partying, not really worry about it.

Anderson: The Rocketplane people have been really nice asking my opinion about things. I think it will be fun. They will have a party. I will have my son and my family and we will make a week-long party out of it. I am going to take my granddaughter on the zero-g. Maybe it would be good to pay extra to have some of the family to participate in the pre-flight training. It would be a good way to market to a captive audience.

TSR: Some of the people from the same family can probably afford it.

Anderson: Or the person in the family may be able to afford it for them.

TSR: What sort of certifications are you looking for them to get before you fly? Insurance?

Anderson: I am not a person who sues anybody. Insurance is not a factor for me.

TSR: So you’re not going to protect your son in that event?

Anderson: He’s already aware there is a possibility that I could die. He’s to go about his life. He’s to get sad for whatever the appropriate time is, then go about his life. Live it hard and fast, whatever he wants to do. Live it slow if he wants to.

Setting an example

TSR: Are you doing anything to nurture the industry along?

Anderson: Actually, after I come back, I like giving talks and going around and speaking to groups. That’s a lot of fun. I enjoy that, I wouldn’t mind doing that.

TSR: What do you think of George Bush, Sr. jumping out of airplanes?

My idea is spending this money on spaceflight. I say, “I am spending more of your inheritance. Here’s what I am doing.” [My son] says, “Go ahead, don’t worry about it.”

Anderson: I think that’s marvelous. I like that. John Glenn doing his thing, too. I think all those things wonderful. They have a club for 80-year-olds, a mountain-climbing club for 80-year-olds. Are you suggesting that I’m going to slow down or stop just because I get a little bit older, child?

TSR: I am planning to ride my first motorcycle about that time in my life.

The big picture

TSR: Why do you think this has taken so long to happen, this whole space tourism thing?

Anderson: Because private industry didn’t get into it before Burt. I guess Burt got into it. He won the [Ansari X] Prize. The prize is what caused it.

TSR: That was a good catalyst. Who do you wish to be in the passenger seat for your flight, anybody in all of history, fiction or not?

Anderson: Sen. [James] Inhofe.

TSR: The guy who enabled everything.

Anderson: The guy who enabled everything. I want to go meet him. Let’s go meet him after dinner.