Space Race 2012: Space Needle and Space Adventures Will Send a Civilian Into Space

Many have dreamed of voyaging into space, but unless you're an astronaut, pop star Lance Bass, or billionaire Richard Branson, taking a trip beyond the Earth's atmosphere has been way too expensive, if not impossible -- until now.

On Tuesday, Space Adventures, a private space exploration company, announced it will send one lucky contestant into space next year. The sweepstakes, dubbed Space Race 2012, is a joint venture between Space Adventures and the Space Needle in Seattle, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. 

The program has been lauded by the likes of former astronaut

Buzz Aldrin

, a crew member on the Apollo 11 moon mission and now a member of Space Adventures' advisory board. 

"This new space race is important to our country in much the same way as the one that I was a part of 50 years ago," Aldrin said at Tuesday's press conference in Seattle. "In 1969 when I made the first lunar landing with Neil Armstrong and we walked on the moon, the achievement was incomprehensible to us, but we did it! Today, we're embarking on a journey that will carry hundreds of thousands of people like you and me into space and that's just remarkable."

Indeed, with the dissolution of NASA's space shuttle program, many people are looking toward private space exploration as the next frontier. 

"The Space Needle was built when our country was in a global space race," said Ron Sevart, president of Space Needle LLC. "With space travel moving to the private sector, a new race has begun that focuses on the best of what the Space Needle has become -- a symbol of the aspirations of today's world of technology and science. What better way than sending a person from our midst into space to mark our first 50 years and look into the exciting future that lies ahead."

To date, Space Adventures has arranged eight flights to the International Space Station for individuals who have the necessary funds (about $15 million each). That's not exactly pocket change for the average American citizen, which is what makes Space Race 2012 an exciting sweepstakes. 

Space fans can enter the contest until November 30 by filling out an entry form at spaceneedle.com or facebook.com/spaceneedle. Monthly prizes will be given out (including a Celestron NexStar 8SE Telescope in September and a SuperCade upright classic arcade machine in November) until the skill-based competition for the grand prize (the 2012 trip for two to space) begins on December 1. A thousand of the sweepstakes entries will be selected for that competition, which ends December 29.

The sweepstakes and competition are open to any U.S. citizen over the age of 18. More than 7,400 people have already signed up. For more information, visit www.spaceneedle.com.

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