If celebrity A-listers booked more rides on space tourism flights, the burgeoning industry would get a boost.
Just call him the Biebernaut. An astronomer is making a case for launching pop singer Justin Bieber into suborbital space aboard a private rocketship.
The idea is not to rid the world of the Canadian teenager and his pop stylings -- he would come back down to Earth eventually, after all -- but rather to help jump-start the emerging suborbital spaceflight industry.
Lofting a celebrity of Bieber's stature would generate a lot of interest among the American public, which could help commercial spaceflight pick up some much-needed momentum, said Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute in Mountain View, Calif.
"My suggestion is, be sure to send Justin Bieber on one of these flights early on," Shostak said here Tuesday (Feb. 28) during a presentation at the 2012 Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference. "If there's more interest, there are more customers. If there are more customers, there's more technical development. It's a positive feedback loop, and obviously that's good."
Bieber is not the only suitable spaceflight ambassador, Shostak added. Other A-list celebrities, such as Oscar-winning actors, could also help the suborbital industry get off the ground. And some might well be willing; singer Beyonce Knowles and husband Jay-Z, for example, have reportedly toyed with the idea of filming a music video in space aboard a private suborbital vehicle.
The commercial space industry consists of a handful of companies -- including Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace, Blue Origin and Armadillo Aerospace -- that are developing vehicles to take passengers and payloads on brief trips to suborbital space.
Such missions would return to Earth without completing a full lap around the planet. Instead, the flights will hit the edge of space about 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth, experience a few minutes of weightlessness, then re-enter the atmosphere and land back at a spaceport
None of these firms are ready to fly customers yet, but some are getting close. For instance, Virgin Galactic hopes to begin powered test flights of its SpaceShipTwo vehicle later this year, with commercial operations perhaps beginning in 2013 or 2014. It is SpaceShipTwo that reportedly grabbed the attention of Beyonce and Jay-Z, according to British tabloid The Sun.