23 AXE Apollo fans win trips to space aboard the XCOR Lynx spacecraft

XCOR Lynx spacecraft mockup photo

Of all the exotic trips you might be able to think of, none probably come close to the idea of spending some time in outer space. For 23 people that exotic idea is a step closer to reality. They've just won trips aboard the XCOR Lynx passenger spacecraft being developed by SXC.

And it wasn't just some random, name drawn out of a hat (or computer-generated) kind of contest, either. According to Sapce.com, potential winners -- there were over 100 participants from over 60 different nations -- began their quest for the coveted "free" tickets a year ago as part of the AXE Apollo promotion from AXE, the British-Dutch grooming products company. Those participants would be pared down to the final 23 after competing against each other in a final week of astronaut training.

The space end of the deal was handled by Space Expedition Corporation (SXC), which will conduct the trips on board their XCOR Lynx space plane, which is in its final stages of development. (Appropriately enough, the name of the men's grooming products in the United Kingdom is Lynx.) The spacecraft is scheduled to take passengers up into space -- and back -- beginning in 2014 or 2015.

The year-long process that culminated in mental aptitude tests, combat training in a fighter jet and zero-gravity flights before the final selections were made was worth it, according to the sole American to get a ticket. And the best part of the process -- the actual trip into space aboard the XCOR Lynx -- has yet to take place.

"It has been a long journey and to finally have it end up like this is so rewarding," Patrick Carney told SPACE.com. "It's unbelievable. I'm so excited … Looking down on Earth is definitely going to be the coolest part. That's what all the astronauts say. They say that when you actually look down you can see how beautiful the Earth is. That's when you really understand humanity. That's exactly what I'm looking forward to the best."

The announcements were made at the Kennedy Space Center. Buzz Aldrin, former NASA astronaut and the man who followed Neil Armstrong down the lunar module ladder to be the second man to take that small step, was there as well. He told the crowd gathered at the AXE Apollo Space Academy at the Florida space facility that he never dreamed space flight would go in the direction it had. "Going into space has been the biggest privilege of my life…" he said. "More of you will see space in the next few years than at any other time in history."

Aldrin was also part of the selection committee. He told Space.com that part of what they looked for was enthusiasm.

"We want them to be enthusiastic," Aldrin said about the winners. "We want them to know how the space program has evolved, what its future may be … They have the nucleus of role models that are enthusiastic about space, who are looking for other opportunities to be a part of what is growing."

Adrin also noted that the SXC program could evolve into something greater, not only getting passengers into space but also getting people into orbit around the Earth.

And he's correct. Many companies are currently exploring not only commercial ventures with NASA and other national space agencies but also avenues whereby they can make a profit providing services in the private sector. Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic was founded as an effort to provide space flight service for paying passengers and science missions with an eye to providing human orbital missions in the future. The Russian company Orbital Technologies has had an orbital habitat, a mini space hotel, in development for a few years now with a target opening date sometime in 2016. The individual orbiting enclosures will hold up to seven guests.

Competition to score space contracts with various governments and provide passenger and science service space flights has become fierce. Mashable discovered nine companies pushing into the space market.

All told, there were 21 male winners of the AXE Apollo contest, including Carney, and two women. The group represents 21 different countries.

And those tickets? What would they cost the regular guy wanting to take a little jaunt into suborbital space? About $95,000 each, so that equates to a pretty good deal getting to go for free (the competition and astronaut training notwithstanding). But that's pocket change to someone who can afford a three-day stay at the Space Hotel. Orbiting about 17,500 miles up will cost each paying customer $1 million for the privilege.