CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., March 22 (UPI) -- The world's newest astronaut candidate did not have to worry about a grueling application process, months of interviews or even getting good grades in school. All he needed was a well-timed stroke of luck.
This Thursday, Volvo plans to announce the winner of a free ticket for a sub-orbital space ride. The promotion, which was unveiled during the Swedish automaker's first Super Bowl television ad Feb. 6, attracted about 135,000 entrants to an online sweepstakes designed to highlight the firm's new eight-cylinder sport utility vehicle.
"It's been one of their most successful integrated campaigns ever," Eric Davis, a Volvo Cars of North America publicist with Haberman & Associates in Minneapolis, told UPI's Space Race 2.
On hand for Thursday's culmination of Volvo's "Boldly Go" campaign, which will be held at the New York International Auto Show, will be billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, the charismatic chief of Virgin Group in London and financier of a fleet of private sub-orbital spaceships for his new company, Virgin Galactic. Branson and Volvo executives are scheduled to announce the sweepstakes winner at a morning news conference at the auto show, which is being held at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan.
"The winner has been notified and will be appearing with Richard Branson at the announcement," Davis said.
Volvo and its partners are keeping the winner's identity under wraps until the news event, but Davis did say the winner is an adult man, "an every-day person from the United States" and a die-hard space buff.
"He had heard about the Volvo sweepstakes and was actively waiting for this," Davis said. "He's wanted to fly his whole life."
If plans for Virgin Galactic's spaceline remain on track, he may only have to wait another few years.
For those who missed out on Volvo's giveaway, there is another way to snag a ride into space without forking over $200,000 for a ticket. Soda manufacturer Cadbury Schweppes plans to roll out a major marketing campaign in late May to promote its newly reformulated Diet 7UP brand. The campaign, announced last October, features a sweepstakes with a sub-orbital space ride promised to the winner.
The Cadbury Schweppes contest is expected to run for about six months, public-relations manager Lauren Radcliffe told Space Race 2.
Unlike Volvo, which contracted directly with Branson's company to fly its winner to space, Cadbury Schweppes is taking advantage of its relationship with the X Prize Foundation for a space ride. As a major sponsor of the Ansari X Prize, which last year paid $10 million to the first team that developed and successfully flew a privately owned and piloted spaceship to sub-orbital altitude, Cadbury Schweppes negotiated for an X Prize Foundation-reserved seat on one of the first commercial passenger spaceflights offered by a registered X Prize contender.
X Prize winner Mojave Aerospace Ventures -- a partnership of aircraft designer Burt Rutan's company Scaled Composites, of Mojave, Calif., and the investment firm of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen -- is considered the front-runner in a race to develop ships for space tourists. Mojave Aerospace licensed the technology of its prototype craft, SpaceShipOne, to Branson's company and is designing the ships for Virgin Galactic. The 7UP winner very well may be flying Virgin Galactic as well.
At least publicly, Cadbury Schweppes bears no ill-will toward Volvo for stepping in on its space turf.
"We think it makes the space race that much more exciting and compelling to have more companies involved," Radcliffe said. "We congratulate them, but we're excited to be kicking off the next phase of our campaign."
In addition to Volvo and 7UP's high-profile space campaigns, software developer Oracle is running a sweepstakes that also promises a sub-orbital space ride to the winner. The contest is open to residents of the United States or Canada who are at least 18 years old and who are software developers working with Oracle products. The Oracle Space Sweepstakes, which began Dec. 5, 2004, runs through May 31.
In addition to monthly drawings for Apple iPods, the company is offering Apple PowerBooks, "Star Wars Triology" DVDs and other prizes. The grand prize, though, is a sub-orbital flight provided through Space Adventures, a tourism firm in Arlington, Va., that arranged for the world's first space tourists to fly to the International Space Station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Space Adventures is offering sub-orbital rides for $98,000 (plus $3,000 for cancellation insurance), but does not specify a carrier. The company has a business relationship with XCOR Aerospace, another Mojave, Calif., firm that is developing a passenger-carrying sub-orbital ship called the Xerus.
Sweepstakes participants are asked to take online quizzes based on the latest Oracle software. Winners are scheduled to be announced by June 30. The grand prize includes a four-day training and familiarization program, travel expenses and $35,000 in cash, bringing the total value of the prize to $138,000.
To register, go to oracle.promotionexpert.com/SpaceSweepstakes/en/index.jsp.
Space Adventures also has partnered with Nidar, a Norwegian chocolate manufacturer, to give away another ticket to ride. The 21-week sweepstakes is scheduled to begin April 1, when Nidar's candy bars, Stratos and Crispo, will be available for sale in new packaging that contains a unique code. Participants should submit the code and answer the space-related questions on the Web site spaceride.no, or register in weekly on-air competitions to be broadcast on Kanal 24 radio.
Space Race 2 is a weekly series by UPI exploring the people, passions and business of sub-orbital manned spaceflight, by long-time aerospace journalist Irene Klotz. E-mail: email@example.com