If you aren't an astronaut, your best bet for visiting outer space may be here at Tour of the Universe.
The attraction was designed as a space port set in the year 2019. From it, visitors embark on regularly-scheduled flights to Jupiter.
It is not a simple procedure to enter Tour of the Universe. "Passengers" must pay for flights at a check-in counter where uniformed Canadian Pacific tour representatives place each person's name in a computer, then issue a security pass.
Access to an underground departure area is via an elevator that drops 1,000 feet below the surface and 31 years into the future. Boarding the elevator is strictly regulated by flight number, and the lines can equal a holiday rush hour at today's airports.
While waiting, visitors can browse through a gift shop that sells everything from freeze-dried ice cream to racy robot posters and kaleidoscope pens. You can have a photo taken of yourself "on the moon" to impress the folks back home.
When it's your turn to board the elevator, you become a traveler of the future. The tour has been designed with audience participation in mind, and a large cast of characters--from futuristic guides to security officers--play their roles well.
Beginning tomorrow the elevator doors will close for the first time, and when they open again it is 2019, the 50th anniversary of man's first landing on the moon.
The first citizen of the future travelers will meet is a security guard at checkpoint one. He announces instructions from behind an ominous smoked visor and directs everyone to access the Central Scrutinizer, the head computer in charge of security and almost all other electronic operations, by inserting security passes into the appropriate slots.
A computer then scans your body to assess height, weight, the presence of weapons and "psycho-spiritual preparedness" for the tour, before opening the gate for those who pass muster.
Passengers then empty into the main concourse, an active place. While awaiting flights, they mingle among displays ranging from space history to Martian artifacts.
Wandering through the crowd is a lone space miner, his tool belt dangling an assortment of unidentified bits and implements. Once stranded at the space port for 30 hours, the miner loves to tell tales of life among the asteroids to anyone who stops to chat.
Sit down and take a breather in front of the video wall. Its 64 monitors run continuous solar-system weather reports, tour briefings and music videos, sometimes as a multitude of repeating images, other times synchronizing into one multifaceted picture.
After your flight number is called, you head toward customs and immigration.
'Are You Bionic?'
At passport control, computer screens interrogate incoming passengers: "Are you non-, partially or completely bionic? Choose one."
Next stop is medical. Had your shots lately? A smiling doctor awaits each group. Not to worry. There are no needles up this man's sleeve. Inoculations of the future are painlessly administered via laser.
Once past the medical checkpoint, travelers enter an environment reminiscent of ferry terminals and airport hangars. Metal catwalks, concrete walls, vaulted ceilings and exposed piping are everywhere.
At the downstairs boarding gate, swamped ticket agents collect security passes in exchange for personalized interplanetary tickets and travel documents.
Read every word of your ticket. Any document advising "certain non-terrestrial liquors are semi-sentient and self-regenerating" may alone be worth the price of admission.
With departure time nearing, anticipation ripples through the crowd. Finally the gate opens and a hostess ushers passengers to their seats, checks safety belts and answers questions before the safety film begins. Emergency instructions leave nothing to chance: In the event of power loss, dive through the hatches into escape pods.
The shuttle is really a modified 747 flight simulator, originally designed to train airline pilots, synchronized with a 70-millimeter video that offers realistic launch and flight sequences through the shuttle window.
The ride is a twisting, turning romp through the solar system that swoops by Gateway, a giant space colony, and is catapulted into orbit around Jupiter.
On the return trip to the present, travelers pass through Transition Tunnel, an eerie swirl of fog and laser-light effects.
Thrills and Authenticity
Tour of the Universe has enough thrills to excite kids raised on "Star Wars." There also is a healthy dose of authenticity so that even adults will believe they have slipped from Earth into the stars.
Tour of the Universe is set at the base of Toronto's CN Tower. Buses and a downtown shuttle make frequent trips to it.
Tour of the Universe is open all year. Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily until Labor Day. Hours vary the rest of the year, so call (416) 363-8687 for more information. Admission prices (Canadian): adults $11.95, seniors $7.95 and children (12 and under) $4. Reservations may be made for groups of 15 or more people by calling (416) 597-1397.