Man Who Couldn't Afford Free Ride to Space May Go After All

A man who gave up a free space ride because he couldn't afford the taxes on the contest prize may be going to the cosmos after all.

Brian Emmett, a 31-year-old software consultant from the San Francisco Bay area, has signed on to become a consultant to a space tourism upstart in exchange for a chance to experience weightlessness some 60 miles above Earth.

Emmett won a future spaceflight as part of a 2005 sweepstakes sponsored by software giant Oracle Corp. (ORCL) He forfeited the prize after calculating he would owe $25,000 in taxes for the spaceflight valued at $139,000.

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Enter Benson Space Co., a Poway-based upstart founded by rocket entrepreneur Jim Benson, who is trying to break into the suborbital spaceflight business.

Benson, who dreamed of flying to space as a boy, said he sympathized with Emmett and offered him a consulting position.

"He had a dream, the dream got broken and we fixed it," Benson said.

As part of the agreement to be announced Wednesday, the company would pay Emmett to serve as a "test passenger," allowing him to hitch a free ride into space in late 2008 when the company hopes to send its first paying tourists, Benson said.

In return, Emmett would offer his feedback during the testing phase of the project.

Emmett said he was grateful for the second chance to go into space.

"My original situation hasn't changed. This isn't something I could do with my own means," he said.

Several space tourism ventures, including British mogul Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, are jostling to develop a suborbital vehicle to ferry rich passengers before the end of the decade.

Vehicles would need to get approval from the Federal Aviation Administration before they could fly out of the atmosphere.

Benson is developing a suborbital spaceship called the Dream Chaser that will be powered by hybrid rocket motors and can hold as many as six people.

A ticket costs between $200,000 and $300,000, with higher prices for those who want to be in the co-pilot seat. The company has not yet decided on a launch site.