Is Space the preserve of millionaires ?
| ||The Space Tourist's Handbook|
by Eric Anderson, President of Space Adventures.
(Quirk : November 2005; $15.95US)
by Katia LE CLAIR
Who are today’s space tourists and tour operators ?
Today, only four people have had the privilege to pay to experience space travel. The first space tourist ever was Dennis Tito, a 60 year old American businessman. His historic flight took place on April 28, 2001. He was followed by Mark Shuttleworth, a 28 year old South-African businessman, in April 2002. The third was Gregory Olsen, a 60 year old American scientist and entrepreneur, who took off in September 2005. More recently, in September 2006, Anousheh Ansari, a 40 year old American businesswoman born in Iran, became the fourth (and first female) space tourist.
Space travel has always aroused people's imagination and curiosity. Originally, it was restricted to professionals, as only the elite astronauts could aspire to go. Since Yuri Gagarin entered space 45 years ago, only about 400-500 astronauts have experienced this adventure. So how did the four "ordinary" people mentioned above get to go?
All four went through a company called Space Adventures, which is the only private company in the world organising and selling spaceflights for a financial gain. Space Adventures works hand in hand with the Russian Aviation and Space Agency. They offer a 9-11 day trip to the ISS (International Space Station) aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA spacecraft at the price of US$20 million, which includes training and medical tests.
Any space trip has to be meticulously prepared, and would-be space tourists have to undergo a series of training sessions and tests which last for months. This eventually determines whether they are suitable or not to take part in such an experiment.
In other words space travel does not only require a lot of money, passengers need to be in excellent health and have a lot of free time in order to prepare for the voyage. No wonder only a few privileged people can experience it.
The stratospheric cost of space travel can be explained by the relative under-development of space technologies. Actually, the only two accepted means of transportation to space, owned by agencies such as ESA or NASA, are space shuttles (which are re-usable but very expensive to maintain and still experimental) and classic rockets (less sophisticated, therefore less expensive but vehicles for single use). These technologies are specific to governmental space missions, but the space tourism industry would require vehicles capable of going back and forth to space. Further research must be done, and presently only private companies such as Space Adventures or Virgin Galactic are undertaking it. Space agencies are not interested, nor do they have the means to be. In fact, they can barely afford their own costs as their budgets are being cut. In the mean time, the Russian space agency seems to have found a solution to that problem as the profits of its joint venture with Space Adventures cover their overall expenses, if not more.
www.spaceadventure.com (official web site)
"Space tourism solution for NASA budget woes?" CNN 27 June 2001.