The Liberty Gazette
November 17, 2015Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: With one mile of highway you can go one mile; from one mile of runway can go anywhere. As Houston’s Ellington Field has become the 10th licensed commercial space port, harken back to pre-Apollo launch days when enthusiasm for lunar pioneering was growing, back to 1958, when Barron Hilton, then Vice President of Hilton Hotels, and himself a pilot, believed their hotel chain would be the first to offer commercial lodging for space travelers.
Eventually, Hilton proposed both Lunar Hilton and Orbital Hilton, the former to be built beneath the Moon’s surface, the latter being free in space. Ever the savvy promoter, Hilton printed reservation cards for their yet-to-be-built Lunar Hilton, and gave away future room keys.
And if the common man was going to make a hotel reservation on the Moon, the airlines would need to step up their game to be able to get them there.
TWA’s Moonliner attraction at Disneyland had given the public a glimpse at the possibilities of space exploration for the common man, so after Austrian journalist Gerhard Pistor paid Pan Am Airlines about $20 in August 1964 for a reservation as the first passenger for future flights to the Moon, Pan Am’s marketing team saw opportunity and began promoting their "First Moon Flights Club".
Mike: But it wasn’t immediately after. Pistor probably took Pan Am by surprise with his request and payment. It would be another four years until Pan Am founder Juan Trippe would seize the moment. Astronauts Borman, Lovell, and Anders were circling the Moon in Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve when, after their reading of the Creation Story from the book of Genesis, TV stations took a break and announced Trippe’s news that Pan Am would start taking reservations for commercial passenger flights to the Moon.
About 93,000 people called or wrote to Pan Am asking to be assigned a club member number and put on the waiting list. Pan Am expected the first flight to depart about the year 2000, although there were no promises as to date or cost. The company said it printed 100,000 numbered membership cards, but ceased taking reservations in 1971 amid financial woes.
According to Steven Mufson, who wrote in the Washington Post July 22, 1989, Pan Am was still planning to honor the club reservation cards: "One small step for man, one giant standby list for Pan Am."
This summer the National Air & Space Museum put out a call for donation of a Pan Am "First Moon Flights" Club card. Museum officials will choose one membership card from among those offered to be added to the label for Space Ship One, the first privately developed, piloted spacecraft. Both the reservation card and spaceship will be displayed in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall once renovations to the hall are completed next summer.
These club cards are not transferrable, and Pan Am went bankrupt in 1991, so the membership numbers assigned to people such as Ronald Reagan and Walter Cronkite will just be removed from the waiting list. If you have one, you have a great collector’s item.