Pants. The Final Frontier.

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Memo to Richard Branson: YOU GO, CRAZY RICH MAN.

No sarcasm there. There really isn't a traditional "target" for today's column. For those who miss the excessively political tone of the last three weeks, allow me to point out that George W. Bush is a doodyhead. But on the subject of space tourism, there is no DUMB, except that I'm convinced that only two people have really seen the true potential for Richard Branson's new venture - Richard Branson, and me.

Here's the way it's officially going to work, on paper. Dick Rutan, who's currently trying to win the X-Prize with Spaceship One, is going to provide Richard Branson of the Virgin empire with a half-dozen ships based on the SS1 design. Branson would then offer, for about two hundred grand, a 90 minute suborbital trip into near-space, including four-minutes of microgravity, and a stunning view of the curved horizon of Earth.

Space tourism. It brings to mind the noble pursuit of flight, the pioneering spirit, the astonishing futures promised to us since the fifties by science fiction writers. The common man being able to go into space has been a lifelong dream of science nerds and space geeks for decades. But as far as I'm concerned, Richard Branson's "Virgin Galactic" is a bold new step forward in the arena of space-fucking.

The zero-G hump. Subject of late night horny nerd-speculation at SF conventions since the first horny nerds stayed up late at SF conventions. There's no way it hasn't already happened, of course. With 40 years of space travel, 20 of them including women, under our belts (as it were), plus the neutral buoyancy simulator at NASA, you gotta figure folks have made the alien with two backs more than once. But Richard Branson is poised to put the knocking of the moon-boots within the reach of the rest of us. Well, OK, the rest of us who happen to be wealthy bastards.

And I think he knows it, too. The clues are all there. First of all, he named his company "Virgin" in a bit of classic misdirection. I really don't think an insanely wealthy mogul who spends most of his time trying to cross oceans in balloons is an uptight prude, so it must be called "Virgin" to create a false sense of wholesomeness and purity for the eventual day when he'd be able to make the Mile High Club look like two middle-aged fundamentalists in their monthly go at the missionary position.

Look at the proposed flight plan. Ninety minute flight, four minutes of weightlessness. That means 43 minutes on the way up for Space Foreplay and Jumpsuit Removal, four minutes for the Three-Axis Mambo, and 43 minutes for drinks, smokes, apologies, wiping down the bulkheads, and regaining your composure for when you walk down the exit ramp and have to lie to everyone about the exhilaration of flight and the beauty of the Earth from space.

I know what you're all thinking. Four minutes doesn't exactly sound like a sexual marathon. But first of all, you're doin' it IN SPACE. If people get all kinds of bonus jollies from cars, elevators, or park bushes, I think having sex in SPACE ought to speed things along enough that four minutes for the actual act will be plenty.

Second of all, you're doin' it IN SPACE. Which means it's like fugu. It doesn't HAVE to be great, because it's IN SPACE. And from that point on, you can tell people you did it IN SPACE. Fugu is, from what I've heard, some seriously bland fish. But it can get away with it, because you RISKED DEATH by eating it. Once you've risked death for a meal, that meal tastes fabulous, no matter what it's actual flavor is. Same with the space-fuck.

And third, and most importantly, four minutes isn't anywhere NEAR enough time to exhaust the potential of the Tropospheric Tango. Which means plenty of incentive to scrape up another two hundred grand and try again.

That's the other thing. TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS. Sure, it's like the early CD players, which cost a thousand bucks and had just the two buttons. You spend that much on a trip into space, you're going to want to get more out of it than you could manage with a harness, an HDTV, and a DVD from the local science museum. For two hundred grand, you're gonna want to get yourself a piece of asteroid.

But for the clincher, we're going to have to turn to Mr. Branson himself. ACTUAL SPACEFUCKING QUOTE TIME!

"We hope to create thousands of astronauts over the next few years and bring alive their dream of seeing the majestic beauty of our planet from above, the stars in all their glory and the amazing sensation of weightlessness." - Richard Branson.

He's gonna "create" thousands of astronauts? Yeah, by conceiving them in orbit! And let's face it, the "stars in all their glory"? The "amazing sensation of weightlessness"? The only reason he can get away with these euphemisms is that the AP reporter at the press conference didn't hear the Official Porn Guitar playing behind the curtain.

And on the off chance you're STILL unconvinced... he's naming the first one the V.S.S. Enterprise. Come ON! Do I have to draw you a map? Enterprise? Kirk? Spacefucking? If there isn't a video on the Internet within seven days of the maiden voyage, then what tiny faith I have in human nature I'll have left at that point will vanish forever.