Times sure have changed. Remember when reality shows were about a bunch of wacky people picked to live together in a house where they could hook up and fight to their hearts’ content? Not anymore. Reality television is now poised to tackle the final frontier, and it’s hard to know whether this is ridiculous, kind of awesome, or simply inevitable. Or maybe all three.
NBC recently announced that, at some yet to be disclosed time, it will air Space Race, a show conceived by Survivor producer/creator and reality show guru Mark Burnett and Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson.
While details about the rules and structure of the show haven’t been released, the basic premise is that “ordinary” people (as opposed to the incredibly rich people who can afford to buy seats at $250,000 a pop on Virgin Galactic’s commercial spaceflights) will compete to win a ride to space aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. SpaceShipTwo is about 60 feet long, with a 90-inch-diameter cabin that has room for six passengers and two pilots (no word yet on whether the winner gets to bring a companion on the trip). Best of all, each passenger gets a window seat — two windows, actually, given that this is no airplane.
While in Earth’s atmosphere, the ship will fly much like an airplane, but in space it will use reaction control system thrusters for increased maneuverability. You know, just in case the Space Race winner wants to do barrel rolls in space. Contestants will train, and perhaps compete, at Spaceport America, Virgin Galactic’s New Mexico home and interstellar launch pad.
Burnett has tried for over a decade to get a space-themed reality show off the ground (sorry). NBC has tried before too — 12 years ago it bid on Destination Mir, a show with a similar premise and a goal of reaching the Russian station. The problem was Mir, which became defunct in 2001 and fell back to Earth. Another try by Burnett, Destination: Space, experienced a similar failure to launch (I can’t help it, really).
While the government shutdown has crippled NASA, it certainly hasn’t slowed down the generation of space-themed reality shows. Sony Pictures Television is working on Milky Way Mission, which would send celebrities into space using Dutch Space Expedition Corporation craft. This to me sounds like a more promising idea. I can think a few celebrities I wouldn’t mind blasting into space. Do you think twerking is possible in zero gravity? Of course, there’s also Mars One, the Dutch nonprofit and reality television project that may spearhead the Mars colonization effort while we all watch.
Virgin Galactic’s first flight is scheduled to take place on Christmas, and Branson will be one of the passengers. The commercial spaceflight company has already collected $80 million in deposits for rides to the cosmos. That’s about 640 tickets, many of them purchased by celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Tom Hanks, and Ashton Kutcher, who plans on punking aliens the first chance he gets.