Pan Am and the waiting list for the moon…

It was Christmas Eve, 1968, and three American astronauts had just become the first human beings to orbit the moon. But it wasn’t the only major news that day. Pan Am airlines announced plans for commercial flights to the moon – and they were so confident it would happen soon, they started a waiting list. And so the “First Moon Flights” Club was born – attracting more than 93,000 members over the next two decades, each convinced they would soon be following the astronauts into space…just in more comfortable surroundings, with an in-flight magazine and a beverage service, at the very least…

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New members got a glossy membership card signed by the vice-president of sales and a letter that helpfully explained what would happen next.  “Starting date of service is not yet known,” it warned moon-flight-clubbers, but asked for patience while the “essentials are worked out” – something that would surely be happening soon, right?

“Fares are not fully resolved, and may be out of this world.”

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After all, it had been less than a decade since the first men went into space, and already they had reached the moon. And just a few months after Pan Am opened its list, Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 astronauts would be walking on the lunar surface itself.

So Pan-Am wasn’t exactly crazy to think it would pioneer commercial space travel.

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Amey Hempel and Bill Fox didn’t think Pan Am was crazy – they signed up for the club as kids and were totally sure they would be getting on that flight one day. As Bill told us:

“I was absolutely convinced that this was my ticket to the moon. And me and all of my classmates would be on board that same flight. I think I expected there might be a flight or two ahead of us with certain dignitaries, and presidents, and whatnot. But I absolutely felt like commercial fairly routine passenger travel to at least the moon was just around the corner.” – Bill Fox

So routine and normal that you would just call us Pan Am’s reservation line and book your spaceflight, like this guy in 1969. Or just call up your travel agent…

“I found out about Pan Am creating a list. And I turned to my dad and said, I want to go. How do I do it? And he said, well, I don’t know. Let’s call the travel agent. And so we called the travel agent…” – Amey Hempel

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Amey got in early, she was #3,384 on Pan Am’s list. But Bill didn’t hear about the club until quite a bit later, when a Pan Am representative visited his school, and signed him up.

“The serial number was lost on me. If I had known from the beginning that there were 88,707 passengers in front of me, I think I would have probably thrown in the towel.” – Bill Fox

But somehow the technology never made an appearance. Pan Am itself threw in the towel in 1991, when the airline went bankrupt. So those 93,000 members never did get their tickets to the moon. But that hasn’t stopped other visionaries from seeing a path to commercial space travel – like Virgin Galactic. Are their membership cards are as great as Pan Am’s?  For $250,000, let’s hope so!

Hear more from Amey and Bill, and their dreams of spaceflight on our recent show “Starry-Eyed: A History of the Heavens.”

And check out Pan Am’s catchy ad jingle from the 1970s, where the waiting list makes an appearance…

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