Johnson & Johnson paid a $500 fee for reserved freight space on the returnable space shuttle for an experiment to separate chemical constituents in human blood.
Volkswagen paid the same fee to reserve a spot in the weightlessness of the shuttle to make the "perfect" ball bearing; movie director Steven Spielberg paid $500 for the same kind of reservation. Spielberg will orbit a camera to photograph the earth and moon from the shuttle to achieve special effects for a sequel to his movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
Those are three applicants who have reserved cargo bays on the returnable shuttle. Then, there are the losing applicants. Like the retailer from Dallas who wanted his gerbils carried into space so he could sell them at Nieman-Marcus. Or the undertaker from California who wanted to orbit the cremated ashes of his dead clients.
"He calls back from time to time to make sure we haven't changed our policy on space burial and we haven't," said Chester M. Lee, who might be described as the space shuttle's chief salesman.
"Our rules are we'll reserve space on the shuttle for $500 for almost anybody provided it involves an experiment in research and development and provided it's in good taste."
It is not clear what is in good taste even if it seems clear what isn't. Space burials and gerbils are not in good taste. Neither is the small satellite a New York doctor wanted to orbit for his son for a wedding present. Or the stamped envelopes, medallions, coils sculpture and paint businessman want to orbit and bring back from space to raise resale value.
"We're taking each request on a case-by-case basic and referring the questionable ones to our artifacts committee," said Lee, director of space transportation system operations for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. "We reject those in bad taste."
The $500 reservation fee is no more than a down-payment for Johnson & Johnson, Volkswagen and Spielberg. The price will depend on the weight of their experiments. The smallest device anyone can fly is 60 pounds. That costs $3,000. A 200-pound experiment will demand $10,000 and 100 pounds will cost $5,000.
So far, Lee and his space salesmen have taken 210 orders worth more than $520 million from customers ranging from the West German government to Weber State University in Utah. The orders come close to filing up the cargo bays for 25 flights of the space shuttle, starting in May, 1980.
The big customers aren't the Johnson & Johnson, the Volkswagens and the Spielbergs. They're companies like RCA, Western Union and Comsat which have reserved space on shuttle flights to take satellites that weigh thousands of pounds into orbit where they will be left by the astronauts flying the shuttle. They are government agencies like the Pentagon which has reserved space for satellites like the Teal Ruby to be carried aloft in March, 1981, to serve as an early-warning watchdog for missile launchings from the Soviet Union.
Foreign governments have reserved shuttle space for communications satellites. Shuttle astronauts will orbit India's Insat, Canada's Anik and Iran's Zohreh in 1981. Another Insat and two more Zohreh satellites will be left in orbit in 1982. About the same time, the European Space Agency will fly its $500 million Space lab for the first time, taking up an entire shuttle flight.
Down payments for satellites like these run $100,000, with full payment of $18 million due the year before they fly. The shuttle con carry no more than two big satellites each time it flies, though economy-minded customers like Hughes Aircraft and Satellite Business Systems have redesigned their spacecraft to fit into smaller spaces in the shuttle's 150-foot-long cargo bay, saving up to $3 million apiece in the process.
The space left over in the shuttle's cargo bay when two ton-sized satellites are loaded is what the space agency has reserved for its "getaway special," the small instruments weighing no less than 60 pounds and no more than 200 pounds.
To date, 171 spaces have been reserved by 72 users of the getaway special. Besides Johnson & Johnson, Volkswagen and Spielberg, buyers of the special include a Boy Scout troop, two women from suburban Washington (named Ann Pincus and Shirley Arnowitz) who say they want to be the first women to put something in space, the Ford Motor Co., a magazine named Quest and a Japanese newspaper named Yomiuri Shimbun.
The magazine and newspaper plan to raffle off the space to subscribers with ideas on how to use the space, then plan to promote the raffles to win circulation. Ford plans a contest to name their experiment but insists the experiment will involve legitimate metallurgical science.
A retired Air Force colonel has put down $5,000 to reserve 10 spaces for getaway specials. He plans to resell them, thereby making "his fortune." The colonel wanted 30 reserved spots but the space agency limited him to 10, saying it didn't want anybody to "corner the market" on space shuttle getaways.