An Out Of This World Photo Tour
The majority of my income comes from leading photo tours, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I spend a great deal of time working on making my tours the best they can be. And any photo tour leader will tell you that the most successful photo tours are ones that bring participants to terrific locations that no one else goes to.
Unfortunately, this is very hard to do in a world saturated with photographers leading tours all over the planet. So, this got me to thinking that perhaps I should look into leading a photo tour off the planet. Stay with me, here. I’m serious.
I have experience organizing unique photo tours. My recent North Korea photo tour was the first (and still the only) one ever offered in that country, and it was a huge success. Eight lucky participants experienced and photographed a country that no other photographers outside of North Korea had ever seen. Only three got arrested, and two were released within a few months, mostly unharmed. (I prefer not to discuss the third person.)
How could I possibly top this? Longtime readers will remember that I spent some time on the International Space Station a few years ago as an ambassador for NASA’s new publicity campaign. While I no longer work for NASA, I still have friends there and I have a few contacts in very high places with the agency.
A news article I recently read got me to thinking about these friends. It seems that NASA is one of the agencies that President Trump has reallocated funds from to build his border wall. Already on the short end of government funding, the agency is now facing serious budget issues and is looking for innovative ways to continue its programs.
So, I was thinking, what better way to bring awareness to NASA’s problems and increase its budget than to offer photo tours on the International Space Station? (I briefly thought that perhaps NASA should try to get Mexico to pay for its programs but figured that would likely involve too much red tape.) I contacted my friends and they totally agreed with me. Long story short, as with North Korea, I will be the first person ever to lead a photo tour on the ISS on 4/20, 2020! How cool is that!?
To call this a bucket list kind of trip would be like saying going back in time and seeing a Tyrannosaurus Rex would be acceptable if you didn’t have anything else going on. DUH! Folks, we’re talking about a literally out of this world, unfrigging believable, kick-butt experience. I mean, this will be better than riding shotgun with Daenerys Targaryen on Drogon! Trust me, I’ve been up there. I know what it’s like.
Before you get too excited, however, I should mention that there are a few negatives to consider. One is price. NASA says that for this to be feasible for them, they must bring in a minimum of $500,000. The ISS will hold only 8 extra people, so after subtracting the leader (me) this leaves 7 people to cover NASA’s fee plus mine. So, for this to work, I need to charge $95,000 per person. That’s a lot, but when you consider what you’re getting, it’s a no brainer.
Training is another issue. See, you can’t just hop on the ISS like you would a Segway. NASA is very meticulous with its training and preparedness, as it should be. All photo tour participants must go through an extensive training session that lasts at least 45 minutes and they must have had a thorough physical within the past 10 years. No exceptions. Oh, you’ll need to make sure your passport is up to date, as well.
Once on the ISS, you’ll have to accept that things aren’t quite like they are in a Hilton. All your food will come from a squeeze tube and you’ll have to drink only water. (Sssh, don’t tell NASA this, but when I went on board, I was able to sneak in a supply of red wine and some pasta with white clam sauce. I was a big hit with the astronauts!)
I’m afraid I won’t be able to offer a single supplement for this trip, either. In fact, all eight of us will be sleeping in the same quarters, regardless of gender. But don’t worry, no one will see anything you don’t want them to. Heck, they won’t see anything even if you did want them to because you’ll be in a space suit the entire time.
Yes, the ISS is heated and has its own air supply, but due to the budget shortfall, maintenance has been a little lax lately. Seems that ports have been opening on a regular basis and sucking people into space, hence the need for the space suit. Don’t worry, there is no real cause for alarm. Everyone will be tethered to the station, so after you get over the initial recoil (assuming you do), you’ll be just fine.
You may be wondering about showers and potty breaks. Did I mention that there aren’t any bathrooms on the ISS? You will shower before you depart and for the two weeks on board, you’ll stink. But don’t worry, no one else will be able to smell you because, again, you’ll be in a space suit.
For potty breaks, you should know how this works from the movies. You back up to a port on the ISS, disengage the rear port on your suit, and do your business. The ISS port leads to a storage tank, called the Secure Holding Incontinence Tank (can’t remember the acronym) that, when full, gets released into space. Well, sometimes it’s into space. One of the highlights of my time aboard the station was when the astronauts would purposely steer the station to a low orbit before releasing the exterior port of the tank so the contents would be released into Earth’s atmosphere. We got a kick out of thinking about what awaited anyone who happened to be in the fallout zone.
But these negatives pale in comparison to the positives. I mean, you’ll be on the International Space Station for goodness sakes! Imagine seeing 36 sunrises and sunsets every day! (The ISS is fast, about 5 miles a second, so it orbits the Earth 36 times a day.) And just think about being able to photograph the daily life of the astronauts running their tests, doing their chores, and backing up to the port on the Secure Holding Incontinence Tank.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking I’m just picking on you. After all, how the heck are you supposed to operate a camera while wearing a space suit, right? I assure you, I’m deadly serious. And I’ve already worked out the camera operation issue with NASA. Their engineers will take your camera and install a special oversize knob on the shutter button, so you’ll be able to operate it with heavy gloves on. No, you won’t be able to make any adjustments in focus or exposure, so it’ll all have to set to Auto before you board, but from experience I can tell you that Auto works just fine on the ISS. During my time on the station, I took about 5,000 photos, all of them in Auto. I can report that every single one of them was out of this world.