NASA Scientist Wins Free Space Trip on Rocket Plane

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A NASA scientist has won a free flight to suborbital space, but he may not be able to claim the prize.

Thomas Goodwin, a physiology and bioengineering researcher at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, won a suborbital flight on XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx vehicle, a $95,000 value. Goodwin’s name was randomly selected Feb. 27 at the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Palo Alto, Calif.

“I’m not sure I can accept this,” Goodwin said, referencing his status as a government employee, which may prevent him from using the prize. “I’m very surprised.”

If government regulations and red tape prohibit Goodwin from claiming the award, a backup is ready to step up; XCOR officials drew an alternate name just in case. Conference attendees who registered in advance were entered in the drawing.

XCOR’s Lynx is a two-person space plane designed to take off and land on a conventional airport runway. In addition to flights with paying passengers, the rocket-powered vehicle is being designed to carry research experiments to suborbital space.

XCOR officials have said the Lynx could be in flight test operations by the end of the year. The company plans to charge $95,000 per seat when the space plane is up and running. XCOR also announced Feb. 27 that it recently secured $5 million in equity funding that will help fund its work on the Lynx.

Whoever eventually goes up in the spaceplane will be in for a real treat, XCOR officials said. “Hang onto your hat, because it’s going to be one amazing ride,” said former NASA astronaut and space shuttle commander Rick Searfoss, XCOR’s chief test pilot.