Flying Cars, Orbital Flights ... Futuristic Travel Takes Off


Almost as soon as cars were invented, man -- and woman -- began dreaming of cars that could fly.

For years, it has been the stuff of science fiction and fantasy, but experts say 25 years from now, that dream will become reality.

"We will have a flying car in the next 25 years. Make no doubt about it," Stanford University professor and world-renowned "futurist" Paul Saffo told "Good Morning America's Weekend Edition."

In fact, we're already closer than you may realize.

In a warehouse in Davis, Calif., an inventor named Paul Moller is building the M-400 Skycar, which he says will be able to take off and land vertically, hover, and fly at up to 300 mph.

Moller foresees a future where skycars routinely zip around taxis or personal vehicles.

"You will be able to get in your skycar, drive it electrically to a vertiport, two or three blocks from your home, program in your destination, and go directly to that destination with being involved in the process," Moller said.

The M-400 and several earlier prototypes have already flown, but only on a limited basis and not very high or very far.

But no one doubts the technology exists to produce a flying car. The challenge is to make it safe to operate, and that means turning the driver into a passenger.

"As you know on the ground most of the accidents are due to operator error so you have to pull that out of the equation in the air," he said. "You just have to computerize it."

Transportation experts say people will eventually turn to the skies not just out of a sense of adventure, but out of necessity: to escape gridlock on the ground.

"There's a lot more space in three dimensions than there is in two dimensions on a road," said Mark Jannot, editor in chief of Popular Science. "I think that's a clear advantage -- just sort of being able to kind of move over and around and up and down and get out of the way."

There are several other versions of flying cars in the works.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are developing a combo car-and-plane. A Texas company is releasing something that looks sort of like a miniature helicopter.

Whatever it is that finally takes off, don't expect it to be powered by gas. More likely the fuel source will be electricity or hydrogen. And they won't be cheap, at least not initially. The first Moller skycars will probably run $500,000.

If you don't like the view from your flying car, you may prefer the one from an aircraft from Virgin Galactic, a high-flying offshoot of Virgin Atlantic Airways.

Unlike plane travel, on Virgin Galactic the transportation will be the destination; you go up to look down.

Virgin Atlantic has announced plans to launch the first of these aircraft two years from now.

The initial flights will cost $200,000, but that will come down as the flights become more routine. Virgin Atlantic is already taking reservations.

"I anticipate that that price will come down to within the $10,000-a-seat range for these suborbital flights within the next five [years] or 10 years, probably," Jannot said.

If going up and down doesn't suit you, by the year 2031 you may be able to check into a space hotel and stay aloft for a few days.

Robert Bigelow made millions in real estate, and he's spending a big chunk of it on trying to develop a module that's placed in orbit by a rocket then inflated to become a space hotel, a laboratory, or an astronaut training facility.

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