Seattle's Space Needle, constructed for the 1962 World's Fair, is turning fifty. To celebrate, the building's owners are holding an elaborate raffle contest for a free space flight.
Ron Sevart, the CEO of the Space Needle, said in a statement that the iconic structure was built at "an optimistic time, a forward-looking time, right in the middle of the space race."
The Space Needle -- with its hourglass tower and a top that resembles a flying saucer -- embodied the era. To recapture the spirit of astronomical adventure, Sevart plans to offer a ticket valued at about $110,000 for a ride on a Space Adventures rocket.
Space Adventures, a Virginia-based company, formerly specialized in parabolic flights, during which passengers would experience weightlessness without ever really being in space. The company is now pushing for sub-orbital flights utilizing rockets rather than 727s.
"The private business of taking people to space is right in front of us, it felt so natural for us to build a contest around that," Sevart said.
Finding a winner will be a long process. Starting soon, contestants can sign up for "Space Race 2012" online. Sevart expects millions of entries and, of those, 1,000 contestants will be chosen at random to create one-minute videos elaborating on why they should be chosen as a space tourist.
The best of the video entrants will undergo a fitness test before the winner is chosen.
Following the heightened public interest in space travel after NASA's last space shuttle mission in July, the Space Needle team is hoping to capitalize on the hype. To help celebrate the future of space travel, they are bringing in one of its most famous pioneers.
Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon, is expected at Monday's formal announcement to kick off the contest.
"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. In 1969 when I made the first lunar landing with Neil Armstrong and we walked on the moon, the achievement was incomprehensible 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 as remarkable," Aldrin said.
Joining Aldrin will be Eric Anderson, chairman of Space Adventures, Richard Garriott, one of only a handful of private citizens who have spent time at the International Space Station, and Sevart.
The contest, called "Space Race 2012," aims to highlight the Space Needle's heritage of its futuristic effort to herald innovation, technology and human achievement of the coming 50 years.