Rowling’s curious cosmic vacancy

Author J.K. Rowling, best known for the Harry Potter series of bestselling books, is back in the headlines with the release of her first post-Potter novel, The Causal Vacancy. In the publicity surrounding the release of the book, Rowling has made some space-related headlines by suggesting she created a cosmic vacancy, if you will, by turning down a curious spaceflight offer.

The UK news agency Press Association reported that Rowling, speaking in London on Thursday, claimed she had been offered a flight into space, apparently on the Space Shuttle. “I was offered a seat. For a mere £2 million [US$3.2 million] I could have been on the shuttle, but I turned it down,” she said, according to the report. The article doesn’t state if Rowling mentioned when she was offered the seat, or why she turned it down.

There are problems with this report, though. First of all, seats on Space Shuttle flights were controlled by NASA, which did not offer them for sale at any price. (And, even if they did, Rowling would be an odd choice to be offered a seat.) Second, the price seems out line of what is being offered for commercial human spaceflights, assuming she confused another vehicle with the shuttle. Soyuz flights, for example, cost about an order of magnitude more than that: upwards of $40 million today, according to various reports. Suborbital flights, like that offered by Virgin Galactic, cost far less: $200,000 or less. Perhaps Hermione can conjure a spell to reveal the truth about this claim…

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