Space Tourism 101

Space tourism is space travel for recreational, leisure or business purposes. A number of startup companies have sprung up in recent years, such as Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace, hoping to create a sub-orbital space tourism industry. Orbital space tourism opportunities have been limited and expensive, with only the Russian Space Agency providing transport to date.

The publicized price for flights brokered by Space Adventures to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft have been US $20–40 million, during the period 2001–2009 when 7 space tourists made 8 space flights. Some space tourists have signed contracts with third parties to conduct certain research activities while in orbit.

Russia halted orbital space tourism in 2010 due to the increase in the International Space Station crew size, using the seats for expedition crews that would be sold to paying spaceflight participants. Orbital tourist flights are planned to resume in 2015…

As an alternative term to “tourism”, some organizations such as the Commercial Spaceflight Federation use the term “personal spaceflight”. The Citizens in Space project uses the term “citizen space exploration”.

As of September 2012, multiple companies are offering sales of orbital and suborbital flights, with varying durations and creature comforts..

After early successes in space, much of the public saw intensive space exploration as inevitable. Those aspirations are memorialized in science fiction including Arthur C. Clarke‘s A Fall of Moondust and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Roald Dahl‘s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Joanna Russ‘s 1968 novel Picnic on Paradise, and Larry Niven‘s Known Space stories. Lucian in the 2nd century AD in his book True History examines the idea of a crew of men whose ship travels to the Moon during a storm. Jules Verne also took up the theme of lunar visits in his books, From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon. Robert A. Heinlein’s short story The Menace from Earth, published in 1957, was one of the first to incorporate elements of a developed space tourism industry within its framework. During the 1960s and 1970s, it was common belief that space hotels would be launched by 2000. Many futurologists around the middle of the 20th century speculated that the average family of the early 21st century would be able to enjoy a holiday on the Moon. In the 1960s, Pan Am established a waiting list for future flights to the Moon, issuing free “First Moon Flights Club” membership cards to those who requested them.

The end of the Space Race, culminating in the Moon landings, decreased the emphasis placed on space exploration by national governments and therefore led to decreased demands for public funding of manned space flights….

At the end of the 1990s, MirCorp, a private venture that was by then in charge of the space station, began seeking potential space tourists to visit Mir in order to offset some of its maintenance costs. Dennis Tito, an American businessman and former JPL scientist, became their first candidate. When the decision to de-orbit Mir was made, Tito managed to switch his trip to the International Space Station (ISS) through a deal between MirCorp and U.S.-based Space Adventures, Ltd., despite strong opposition from senior figures at NASA; from the beginning of the ISS expeditions, NASA stated it wasn’t interested in space guests. Nonetheless, Dennis Tito visited the ISS on April 28, 2001, and stayed for seven days, becoming the first “fee-paying” space tourist. He was followed in 2002 by South African computer millionaire Mark Shuttleworth. The third was Gregory Olsen in 2005, who was trained as a scientist and whose company produced specialist high-sensitivity cameras. Olsen planned to use his time on the ISS to conduct a number of experiments, in part to test his company’s products. Olsen had planned an earlier flight, but had to cancel for health reasons.

Space Adventures remains the only company to have sent paying passengers to space. In conjunction with the Federal Space Agency of the Russian Federation and Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, Space Adventures facilitated the flights for all of the world’s first private space explorers. The first three participants paid in excess of $20 million (USD) each for their 10-day visit to the ISS.

After the Columbia disaster, space tourism on the Russian Soyuz program was temporarily put on hold, because Soyuz vehicles became the only available transport to the ISS. On July 26, 2005, Space Shuttle Discovery (mission STS-114) marked the shuttle’s return to space. Consequently, in 2006, space tourism was resumed. On September 18, 2006, an Iranian American named Anousheh Ansari became the fourth space tourist (Soyuz TMA-9).) On April 7, 2007, Charles Simonyi, an American businessman of Hungarian descent, joined their ranks (Soyuz TMA-10). Simonyi became the first repeat space tourist, paying again to fly on Soyuz TMA-14 in March–April 2009. Canadian Guy Laliberté became the next space tourist in September, 2009 aboard Soyuz TMA-16.

As reported by Reuters on March 3, 2010, Russia announced that the country would double the number of launches of three-man Soyuz ships to four that year, because “permanent crews of professional astronauts aboard the expanded [ISS] station are set to rise to six”; regarding space tourism, the head of the Russian Cosmonauts’ Training Center said “for some time there will be a break in these journeys”.

On January 12, 2011, Space Adventures and the Russian Federal Space Agency announced that orbital space tourism would resume in 2013 with the increase of manned Soyuz launches to the ISS from four to five per year.

However, this has not materialized, and the current preferred option, instead of producing an additional Soyuz, would be to extend the duration of an ISS Expedition to one year, paving the way for the flight of new spaceflight participants. The British singer Sarah Brightman is scheduled for such an assignment in 2015


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