Space travel: 10 out-of-this-world destinations

JAYSON PETERS, TRIBUNE

For sci-fi fans, heaven can be a place on Earth.

Here are 10 out-of-this-world sites right out of the databanks of your favorite science-fiction movie or television series. Most of them can be reached by conventional travel, but all of them share an air of mystery or majesty common to the epic tales that made them popular.

Starfleet HQ

10. California’s Bay Area, home of Star Fleet Headquarters and Starfleet Academy (Star Trek)

Those liberal-peacenik Federation types from Star Trek must love California: That’s where they chose to build Starfleet Headquarters and Starfleet Academy. With a commanding view of the Golden Gate Bridge (perfect for flying your captured Klingon Bird of Prey under while laden with two humpback whales rescued from the barbarous 20th century to help you communicate with destructive alien probes — see #9) it doesn’t look all that different than it does today. Except for the spandex uniforms and flying cars.

Speaking of whales …

Monterey Bay Aquarium

9: Monterey Bay, home of the whales who saved Earth (Star Trek IV)

The nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row was used in Star Trek IV as the home of George and Gracie, the two whales the Enterprise crew needed to help them save the Earth in the 23rd century. There are no whales kept there in real life — a fact which angered many visitors who came inspired by the 1986 movie — but it is still one of the world’s largest and most popular aquariums.

Tikal in Guatemala

8: Guatemala: Yavin IV, the Rebel Alliance’s secret base (Star Wars)

The ruins of Tikal in Guatemala stood in for the Massassi Temple complex that housed the hidden Rebel Alliance base on Yavin IV in Star Wars. One of Mayan civilization’s major population centers and cultural hubs, Tikal is now one of the largest archaeological sites from the pre-Columbian world. One thing the Mayans and Massassi had in common: temples that are ideal to serve as ready-made hangars for X-wing starfighters.

Tunisia's Hotel Sidi Driss

7: Tunisia: The Lars Homestead on Tatooine (Star Wars)

No place on Earth is more like Tatooine than Tunisia — in fact, the African nation is where George Lucas filmed scenes for the desert planet in Star Wars and its prequels, and the planet is named after a former French penal colony there called Tataouine. You can even visit the hotel that stood in for the moisture farm where Owen and Beru Lars raised Luke Skywalker on a steady stream of blue milk and lies. Set decorations remain, and somewhere out in the dunes still lie the bleached bones of a Krayt dragon.

Palace of Jabba the Hutt

6: Yuma: Jabba’s Palace and the Great Pit of Carkoon (Return of the Jedi)

But the desolation of Tunisia is far too remote for Jabba the Hutt, so when Lucas needed to film scenes for the vile gangster’s Tatooine compound in Return of the Jedi he went to the desert outside Yuma. To keep spectators to a minimum and prevent vendors from thinking they could make a killing off “Star Wars,” the production crew told everyone here they were filming a horror movie called “Blue Harvest.” The area is cherished by moviemakers, off-roaders and environmentalists (there are a number of endangered species in the area — but no Sarlaccs or Rancors).

London Eye, River Thames, Big Ben and Parliament

5: London: Doctor Who’s city of disaster

Poor London. Since Doctor Who returned to television in 2005, the city has suffered terribly: The London Eye ferris wheel was turned into an alien transmitter, Big Ben was destroyed by an out-of-control spaceship and the River Thames was drained to flush away an infestation of giant spiders from outer space.

Fortunately all of these landmarks, within close proximity of one another, are safe and sound in real life and ready for tourists.

London is rich not only with history real and alternate, but is also full of sites that capitalize on the popularity of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

Giza Plateau in Egypt Stargate

4: Egypt, Stargate’s parking lot of the gods

In the world of Stargate, a 1994 feature film later developed into a TV franchise that is still going strong, the pyramids of Egypt were built as landing pads for the spaceships of advanced alien scavengers called Goa’uld. Many similar theories have been proposed in real life. Whatever their origin, the grandiose structures that housed the remains of pharaohs and their courts are majestic enough without the aid of science fiction.

Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming

3: Devil’s Tower, the world’s yummiest mountain (Close Encounters of the Third Kind)

The origin of this national monument in northeast Wyoming has mystified geologists, but it is probably more famous worldwide for its use as the site of official first contact between mankind and extraterrestrials in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. However it formed, it is probably the only natural formation to be immortalized on film as a mashed potato sculpture. Mmmmmm.

Map of Tolkien's Middle-earth

2: New Zealand, where Tolkien’s fantastical Middle-earth became reality (The Lord of the Rings)

OK, so it’s not quite science fiction. But fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth fantasy stories — including The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings — had to wait many, many, many years to see their beloved books visualized properly by Peter Jackson, but when it happened it was done right. New Zealand simply is Middle-Earth, and its sweeping beauty is worth appreciating for its own sake as well as taking in the epic vistas where mighty armies clashed in the War of the Ring.

Space tourist Dennis Tito (AP photo)

1. Space, the final frontier

At about $30 million per trip, this is probably the least-feasible destination on the list — but it is, without a doubt, the one that has captured the most imaginations and led to the creation of the sci-fi genre as we know it.

The sky’s the limit.

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