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READING PASSAGE 1

You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 1-13, which are based on Reading Passage 1 below.

The Final Frontier for Tourism

A

For some reason humankind has always looked towards the stars and dreamt of one day making the voyage into the unknown and exploring outer space. Perhaps it is our innate curiosity, perhaps the challenge presented by the seemingly impossible; whatever the lure, the quest to venture into space has become an obsession for many.

B

On a memorable July day in 1969 one man made a giant leap for his kind. Neil Armstrong touched down on the moon as the world watched with bated breath. Was this a beginning or the culmination of years of endeavour that pushed science to its very limits? Well, it has been a long time indeed since the last moon landing, more than 40 years, but science has not stood still in the interim, nor have our dreams become any less ambitious. According to NASA, plans are afoot for a manned mission to Mars at some point after 2020. A return to the moon has been scheduled sooner - perhaps 2018 if NASA's new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) is rolled out on lime. It may not be Hollywood razzle-dazzle-style progress; it may even be painstakingly slow, but rest assured that plans are afoot for something very ambitious and special indeed, and NASA may be back in the headlines making waves and history again, just as it did on that faithful day in 1969, in the not-too-distant future.

C

That said, it is the prospect of space tourism for the masses that has captured the headlines recently, and this may not be such a distant dream as people would expect. In 2001, an American multimillionaire, Dennis Tito, became the first space tourist, spending ten days on the International Space Station along with his crew of Russian cosmonauts, and fulfilling a lifelong ambition in the process. He described the experience rather paradoxically as 'indescribable'; everything that he thought it would be and more. A year later, South African millionaire Mark Shuttleworth followed in his footsteps. On his return to Earth he said, 'every second will be with me for the rest of my life'. Clearly these men had a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but this came at a hefty price, both paying $20 million for the pleasure of their space adventures.

D

At present, space tourism is undoubtedly reserved for an elite and wealthy few, but what of the future? If Eric Anderson, president of Space Adventures, the company that organised Tito and Shuttleworth's trips, is to be believed, it will be the next big thing. 'Everyone's looking for a new experience', he says. Indeed, Space Adventures is planning to offer rocket trips to the public for $100,000 within the next few years, so perhaps space tourism is closer than we think. Another company, The Space Island Group, is planning to build a space hotel inspired by the spaceship in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Gene Meyers, the company's president, predicts that in 2020 a five-day holiday at the hotel will cost less than $25,000. Imagine, he says, a five-star hotel with all the usual luxuries, except that each morning you'll be greeted by mind-blowing views of outer space. This is certainly food for thought for adventure-seeking holiday planners. That said, unless there is a serious spike in inflation between now and 2020, $25,000 will still remain a considerable sum of money to have to part with for a recreational activity, once-in-a-lifetime or not. But that is perhaps missing the point -the prospect of affordable space travel is getting closer and closer and it is only a matter of time before it becomes a reality.

E

Other companies have even more ambitious plans. Bigelow Aerospace is spending close to $500 million on a project to build a 700-metre spaceship to fly tourists to the moon. The spaceship will be able to hold 100 guests, each with a private room offering truly unique views of the Earth's sunset. Even the Hilton Hotel Group wants to get in on the act with talk of plans to build a Hilton on the moon. For the present, only millionaires can enjoy the privilege of a space journey, but in the words of one Bob Dylan, 'The times they are a changing.' And sooner than you'd think.

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