A group of would-be astronauts are heading down to Florida this week for the chance to win the opportunity of a lifetime: a free trip to the edge of space and back.
More than 100 participants from all over the world are converging on NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the AXE Apollo Space Academy — the final step in a yearlong contest designed to send 23 lucky winners to the edge of space. In total, 25 people will travel to space with AXE (two additional tickets were already awarded through a sweepstakes).
The 23 winners — chosen from the larger group in Florida — will receive tickets to fly from Space Expedition Corporation. SXC manages trips aboard the XCOR Aerospace Lynx aircraft, a reusable shuttle that is expected to start flying customers to space in 2015, according to reports. It costs $95,000 for a ticket on the Lynx spacecraft and more than 250 tickets have already been sold, according to XCOR officials. [See photos of XCOR's private Lynx space plane]
"Space travel for everyone is the next frontier in the human experience," astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who became the second person ever to walk on the moon during NASA's 1969 Apollo 11 mission, said in a statement when the contest began. "I'm thrilled that AXE is giving the young people of today such an extraordinary opportunity to experience some of what I've encountered in space."
In Florida, contestants will go through an astronaut-training program. The participants will take a zero-gravity flight on the ZERO-G aircraft, fly aboard a fighter jet and be subjected to four times the force of gravity during g-force training.
AXE launched the contest in January 2013 when officials with the company asked people across the globe to enter via social media. Hopeful spaceflyers built campaigns around themselves, asking people visiting the website to help them win the chance for a coveted ticket by voting for them. Other space fans used unique codes found on AXE products to enter the contest.
"The Apollo campaign was not only incredibly exciting for the AXE community; it energized and engaged an audience around the world," Matthew McCarthy, senior director of brand building for the men's personal care product company AXE, said in a statement. "Through A.A.S.A. [AXE Apollo Space Academy], we're proud and excited to make history by giving guys and girls the ultimate chance to go to space — making space accessible in a way that hasn’t been done before."
Of the 109 people attending the space academy, eight of them are from the United States. Two were chosen based on their social media rankings, while the other six found the AXE promo codes that secured them a trip to Florida. The sole United States winner of a ticket on the Lynx will be chosen at random from the eight participants.
"Right now, we are in the infant stages of something amazing in the space industry because of the commercialized space industry that's starting to grow," Jake Rohrig, one of the United States social media AXE Apollo participants, told SPACE.com.
"It [the commercial space industry] is starting with a select few people that can afford to do it and it's going to grow to something bigger," Rohrig added. "Because of that, I wanted to be a part of that movement. As an astronaut — especially as a civilian astronaut through this competition — it gives me the credibility in order to contribute to the growth of that industry."
The eight United States contestants include: Rohrig from Illinois, Bill Bell from West Virginia, Patrick Carney from Virginia, Jose Cook from North Carolina, Corey Fraser from Texas, Robert Katz from New Jersey, Johnnie Moore from Hawaii and Stephen Spencer from Florida.
"I'm thinking it's going to be really intense," Carney told SPACE.com of the astronaut training. "I've been running a mile everyday just trying to get in shape … I can tell it's going to be intense, but I'm really excited."
SPACE.com staff writer Miriam Kramer will attend the space academy and participate in the astronaut training events, but she is not eligible to win a flight to space. Check back with SPACE.com this week for continuing coverage of the experience in Florida.
Editor's note: If you have suggestions for what Miriam should do during her zero-gravity flight or any other event with the AXE Apollo Space Academy, let her know by leaving your thoughts in the comments or posting on Twitter using her handle, @mirikramer, or SPACE.com's handle, @SPACEdotcom.