cruise ships

Ohio astronomy park honors astronaut John Glenn

I’ve spent the last week chatting with astronauts and other whip smart folks who work for NASA and its international equivalents on the shakedown cruise for the new Viking Orion ocean ship that boasts retired astronaut Anna Fisher as its godmother.

Fisher was able to invite about 100 of her friends on board this cruise and I was among a small group of incredibly fortunate journalists to tag along for the adventure.

In a panel and in one-on-one chats many of the more than two dozen current and former astronauts on board shared stories about being in space and, throughout the cruise, astronauts and non-astronauts alike had a chance to check out the skies from the ship’s decks and in its high-tech planetarium.

Today I leave the ship and all the astronauts behind and fly home on an airplane – not a rocket ship. But I’ve got my eyes on the skies and I’m pleased to learn that on Thursday, June 21 – just in time for the summer solstice – a new astronomy park honoring super-hero astronaut and Ohio native John Glenn will open in rural Logan, Ohio, about forty miles southeast of Columbus.

Courtesy NASA

The John Glenn Astronomy Park (JGAP) will not only allows visitors to explore the night sky, but it will also offers daytime study with a  Solar Plaza to study the Sun, Earth and the North Celestial Pole, among other celestial features. The 80-foot in diameter Solar Plaza highlights the Sun’s orientation to the Earth as it changes throughout the year and is encircled by a low wall with notches offering framed views of the Sun on key days.  The new park also has an enclosed 540-square-foot observatory with a retractable roof  to  permit night sky viewing.

(All photos courtesy of the John Glenn Astronomy Park, except for photo of John Glenn, which is courtesy of NASA and the  planetarium photo, which is courtesy of Viking Cruises).

 

E-cigs on a plane & in the airport

Lucky Stirke smoking

Can you vape on vacation? Maybe. Maybe not.

Sales of e-cigarettes and their cousins, re-fillable “vaporizers,” are currently a $2.2 billion market in the United States, according to tobacco analysts at Wells Fargo Securities, up from an estimated $1.7 billion in 2013. And e-cig consumption could surpass that of combustible cigarettes in 10 years, according to the same forecast.

Yet, while the popular, smoke-free, nicotine delivery tools are marketed as being less toxic than traditional cigarettes, the options for where travelers may use the devices can be hazy.

In the air

Although its rules don’t explicitly spell it out, the Department of Transportation believes the existing ban on smoking on domestic and international flights of U.S. and foreign air carriers is sufficiently broad to include a ban on the use of electronic cigarettes.

“We are finalizing a rule that will address whether we should amend the existing regulatory text to explicitly ban use of electronic cigarettes aboard commercial airline flights. DOT expects the final rule will be published in the Federal Register in early 2015,” an agency spokesperson said via email.

While e-cigs are sold at some airport newsstands, their use is determined by local regulations and ordinances.

A handful of airport shops operated by Paradies have been selling e-cigs since July at the request of the airports, according to Paradies Senior Marketing Manager Justin Marlett.

The Hudson Group also sells e-cigs in some airport newsstands. Cigarettes and other tobacco products, including e-cigs, now account for less than 1 percent of Hudson’s overall newsstand sales, “but while only 7 percent of that 1 percent is represented by e-cigs, e-cigarettes are the only tobacco products that are showing growth…albeit only incremental growth,” said Mike Maslen, Hudson’s vice president of sales.

Buying e-cigs at an airport is one thing, using them there is another.

Rules vary airport-to-airport, and sometimes within concession-to-concession. Until earlier this year, when Minnesota enacted legislation banning e-cigarettes from government buildings, e-cigs could be used in the terminals of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

“We had no ordinance or policy banning them,” said Patrick Hogan, MSP’s director, public affairs & marketing, which mean e-cigs could be used in areas controlled by the Metropolitan Airports Commission. “However, concessionaires and airlines could prevent their use within their leased space. I don’t know how many did,” said Hogan.

Because the city of Los Angeles prohibits e-cigarettes inside public buildings, “the public is prohibited from using e-cigarettes within 20 feet of entrances to terminals, office buildings, and other on-airport properties,” said LAX spokesperson Nancy Castles.

But at Denver International Airport, where some retailers sell e-cigs, “this falls under the airport’s tobacco policy, so their use is only allowed in areas where smoking is allowed, such as the remaining smoking lounge on the C Concourse,” said airport spokesman Heath Montgomery.

At hotels

Hotels also vary widely in their e-cig policies.

While the cluster of hip Provenance Hotels in Oregon, Washington and Nashville, Tennessee, have no formal policies on e-cigs, The Warwick in San Francisco is clear that the hotel’s smoking ban includes e-cigs.

And while some hotels sell e-cigs in the in-room mini-bars, “most hotels use the same policy for e-cigs as they do for traditional smoking,” said Julie Faver-Dylla, executive director of the Hotel Association of Tarrant Country, Texas, which represents about 400 properties in and around Arlington and Forth Worth.

“Although we understand that oftentimes the vapor produced by e-cigs is less damaging to our properties and less offensive than traditional burned cigarettes, there many variants of those products in use, and it is not possible for hotel staff to determine which might be problematic,” she said.

At sea

There is no industry-level policy on e-cigarette use on cruise lines, but “it is something that individual cruise lines are looking at,” said Elinore Boeke, spokeswoman for Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s trade association.

American Cruise Lines, for example, does not have a formal policy in place for e-cigarette use, but “for our smoking passengers there is a designated area on the top deck of each of our ships. In the event we have a passenger who does use e-cigs or vapes, we encourage them to go up to the top deck as well,” said company spokesman Britt Rabinovici.

On the Holland America Line, “electronic cigarettes are permitted in staterooms but not in other public areas of the ship other than on outside decks designated as smoking areas,” but on Royal Caribbean Cruises, e-cigarette users must join traditional cigarette, cigar and pipe smokers in designated outdoor areas of the starboard side of most ships.

(My story about e-cigarettes first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior).