Author J. K. Rowling claims that she turned down a chance to go into space. An article in the Independent, an Irish newspaper, quotes Rowling as saying, “I was offered a seat. For a mere £2 million I could have been on the shuttle, but I turned it down.”
This story belongs in the fiction section with Harry Potter.
NASA has never sold seats on the Space Shuttle, or allowed anyone else to sell them either. Rockwell International, which built the Shuttle, once approached NASA about the prospect of selling seats to private customers. They were turned down. That was back in the 1980’s. Joanne Rowling (not yet “J.K.”) would have been an impoverished student at the time. There is no chance Rockwell would have approached her about buying a ticket.
The article also mentions Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic, but does not connect them to Rowling. The article also points out, correctly, that Virgin Galactic is selling tickets for £120,000 – $200,000 – which is far short of the £2,000,000 which Rowling mentioned.
Another possibility is that the “shuttle” she mentioned was actually a Soyuz flight. In that case, however, £2 million is far too low.
We have no idea what J. K. Rowling was talking about, and apparently, neither did she.
Human-interest stories like this one, quoting some celebrity saying he or she isn’t interested in spaceflight, crop up every few months. We can understand why – it’s an easy sort of article to write and tempting for a lazy journalist who needs to fill space on a tight deadline. What’s annoying is that such articles get picked up by the space cynics, who immediately cite the statements as proof that interest in personal spaceflight is about to implode.
That is nonsense, of course. The news media could easily find celebrities who have no interest in ocean cruises or African safaris, if they wanted to. That does not mean there’s no market for cruises or safaris, even among celebrities. But an article about J. K. Rowling turned down an ocean cruise wouldn’t make headlines like J. K. Rowling turning down a spaceflight.