24 January 2002
Other - Tourism (Good)
Space Tourism Is Here to Stay
Interview with Space Adventures
by Alan Breakstone
by Alan Breakstone
Nearly one year after Dennis Tito's historic voyage to orbit, space tourism is building momentum with no sign of stopping. Space tourism entrepreneurs are finding new business in the new frontier, and NASA no longer stands in the way of paying adventurers visiting the International Space Station ( ISS) aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Two recent articles, one on space.com ("Space Tourists Lining Up; Russians Hope $20M Price Tag Will Help Pay For ISS") and the other from spacer.com and Agence France-Presse ("Russia ready to sign on third 'space tourist'"), report that a third paying space traveler (after Tito and Mark Shuttleworth, scheduled for launch April 20) has been recruited by the space travel company Space Adventures. The company helped arrange for Tito and Shuttleworth's flights with the Russian Aviation and Space Agency, Rosaviacosmos. The flights are aboard the veteran Soyuz spacecraft, a proven and commercially viable flying machine whose price is known.
Space Adventures is finding new business in the stars. "We are definitely receiving more inquiries than before," says Space Adventures' Tereza Predescu. "Currently, we have a few people who might be the next space tourists." That includes two serious inquiries in January 2002, getting the new year off to a good start.
The age range of the new recruits averages around the mid-thirties to upper fifties. "As you know, Tito was 60, and our second client, Mark Shuttleworth, is only 28," says Predescu. And so far, all of the inquiries have been from men. "It would be great if we could sign up a woman for a trip to the ISS!" Predescu adds.
Making the road to the stars easier to travel, NASA has recently shown a friendlier attitude toward private citizen trips to ISS. In the summer of 2001, NASA, Rosaviacosmos, and the space station program's European partners reached an agreement outlining the basic requirements (including training) for future space tourists.
"NASA is starting to realize that space tourism is inevitable and no longer part of sci-fi," says Predescu. "It is a reality they HAVE to accept."
Space Adventures does not see NASA as an opponent of space tourism in general.  "[NASA has] only shown resistance towards Tito, the first space tourist to visit the ISS," says Predescu. "With our second orbital client, Mark Shuttleworth, NASA has been very cooperative and positive."
Eventually, other vehicles could join the Soyuz in the growing space tourism industry. Predescu thinks the chances of using the Space Shuttle for tourism are very slim, but it is possible.
"NASA is a government research organization, and their role isn't commercial space exploration," she says. "That will be up to private companies like us. If NASA intends on transfrerring ownership of the Shuttle to USA [United Space Alliance, NASA's Shuttle operations contractor], they might be able to launch commercial payloads again. In that case, Space Adventures would invite the opportunity to offer our clients a choice of flying aboard the Shuttle or Soyuz to the ISS."
And there soon could be another route to orbit: the People's Republic of China and their Shenzhou spacecraft currently undergoing unpiloted testing.
"Given that their vehicle is a derivative of the Soyuz spacecraft, it is possible that some day [Space Adventures] clients may fly aboard the Shenzhou," says Predescu. "As for now, the Chinese government has yet to fly their own people, and we feel it may be too early to approach them."
It may be early yet, but the space tourism industry is off to a flying start.
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Alan Breakstone 24 January 2002
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