Taxes Dash Dream of Space Travel, Has Happy Ending

February 8, 2007

An amusing tale of a man, a dream, and the burden of the federal individual income tax, courtesy of the good folks at CNN.com.

First the bad news, from a January 29th story, “Uncle Sam Spoils Dream Trip to Space“:

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) — Brian Emmett’s childhood fantasy came true when he won a free trip to outer space.

But the 31-year-old was crushed when he had to cancel his reservation because of Uncle Sam.

Emmett won his ticket to the stars in a 2005 sweepstakes by Oracle Corp., in which he answered a series of online questions on Java computer code. He became an instant celebrity, giving media interviews and appearing on stage at Oracle’s trade show.

For the self-described space buff who has attended space camp and watched shuttle launches from Kennedy Space Center, it seemed like a chance to become an astronaut on a dime.

Then reality hit. After some number-crunching, Emmett realized he would have to report the $138,000 galactic joy ride as income and owe $25,000 in taxes.

Unwilling to sink into debt, the software consultant from the San Francisco Bay area gave up his seat.

“There was definitely a period of mourning. I was totally crestfallen,” Emmett said. “Everything you had hoped for as a kid sort of evaporates in front of you.” (Read the full piece here.)

Tragic. Here’s the actual Oracle Space Sweepstakes winners page. Note the smiling pre-tax-liability photo of Mr. Emmett, as contrasted with the post-tax-liability photo here.

Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. Thanks to the wonders of free and open competition between private space-travel providers, CNN.com provides an update with a happy ending, “Man Gets Second Chance at Space Ride“:

POWAY, California (AP) — A man who gave up a free space ride because he could not afford the taxes on the contest prize may be going to the cosmos after all.

Brian Emmett, a 31-year-old software consultant from the San Francisco Bay area, has signed on to become a consultant to a space tourism upstart in exchange for a chance to experience weightlessness some 60 miles above Earth.

Emmett won a future spaceflight as part of a 2005 sweepstakes sponsored by software giant Oracle Corp. He forfeited the prize after calculating he would owe $25,000 in taxes for the spaceflight valued at $139,000.

But now he might get support from Benson Space Co., a Poway-based upstart founded by rocket entrepreneur Jim Benson, who is trying to break into the suborbital spaceflight business.

Benson, who dreamed of flying to space as a boy, said he sympathized with Emmett and offered him a consulting position.

“He had a dream, the dream got broken and we fixed it,” Benson said. (Full story here.)

Here’s the website of the story’s hero. Here’s our previous post on similar tax snafus faced by Survivor winners, who enjoyed no such happy ending.


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