24 January 2001
- Tourism (None)
Russian Officials to Negotiate over Access Rights to ISS
Opening Possibility of Last-Minute Reprieve for MIR
by Patrick Collins
Space News reported on January 15 that "senior Nasa space station officials" will meet in Moscow in February to discuss Russian plans to fly US citizen Dennis Tito to the ISS. The reason for this was given as: "Russian space officials recently informed Nasa in writing of a plan to fill the Soyuz capsule's vacant third seat with paying customers during routine missions."

However, rumours have been circulating that Nasa officials have already said that they do not want 'visitors' at least "during the construction phase of ISS". A major problem with such a position is that it could last indefinitely - and Energia has already signed contracts to fly at least 8 and possibly 10 people to space.
MIR Reprieve?

If the Russians realise that they are not going to have the right to send people of their own choice even to the parts of the station that they have built and paid for, is it possible that they will realise - in the nick of time - that they will be better off keeping MIR in orbit after all?

Of course Nasa is strongly against that as well, and so their negotiators will be trying hard to allay the Russians' suspicions until MIR is safely destroyed. "Just a temporary delay, you understand, while we consider all the issues - not a complete ban" will presumably be their line.

But - after the big splash - it'll become: "Well, we've gone over all the issues, Yuri, and we're sorry, but we (the other agencies) all agree no."

Russia must beware throwing away its priceless MIR! It is its only bargaining chip in preserving the right to earn commercial revenues from its huge investment in the international space station (ISS).
Tourism Taking Centre Stage

The fascinating thing is how this issue is becoming the issue for ISS. Is it going to be able to be used in a genuinely commercial way? - which means for tourism, since that is the largest source of demand for space transportation and accommodation? Or is it just to be "Commercialization"? - that is, 'officially' approved activities = scientific research paid for, directly or indirectly, by taxpayers?

The pressure from Russia to earn real money from their space capabilities is having a highly beneficial effect in putting this issue at centre-stage where it belongs. Under the title 'Altering the Rules of Space', Space News' last editorial of 2000 bemoaned the fact that "today's manned space programs do little to inspire public enthusiasm." And in that context they praised MirCorp, whose "cattempt to turn Mir into the world's first truly commercial outpost in space was one of the most intriguing developments of the past year."

Russian negotiators must beware! They seem to have succeeded in getting their own way in quite a lot of matters to date - but if they ditch MIR without getting an unbreakable, binding, signed agreement that they can use at least their own parts of the international space station as they wish, they will lose everything.
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Patrick Collins 24 January 2001
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