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Space tourism


Space tourism is the recent phenomenon of space travel by individuals for the purpose of personal pleasure. At the moment, space tourism is only affordable to exceptionally wealthy individuals and corporations, with the Russian space program providing transport. Some are beginning to favor the term “personal spaceflight” instead, as in the case of the Personal Spaceflight Federation.

Among the primary attractions of space tourism are the uniqueness of the experience, the awesome and thrilling feelings of looking at Earth from space (described by astronauts as extremely intense and mind-boggling), status symbol, and various advantages of weightlessness.

Early Dreams

After initial successes in space, many people saw intensive space exploration as inevitable. In the minds of many people, such exploration was symbolised by wide public access to space, mostly in the form of space tourism. Those aspirations are best remembered in science fiction works, such as Arthur С Clarke’s “A Space Odyssey” and Larry Niven’s “Known Space Stories”. However, during the 1960s and 1970s, it was common belief that space hotels would be launched by 2000. Many fu-turologists 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.

The end of the space race, however, signified by the Moon landing, decreased the importance of space exploration and led to decreased importance of manned space flight.

With the realities of the post-Glasnost economy in Russia, the space industry was especially starved for cash. It was decided to allow Toyohi-ro Akiyama, a reporter for Japanese television company TBS, to fly in 1990 to Mir with the eighth crew and return a week later with the seventh crew, for a price of $28m. Akiyama gave a daily TV-broadcast from orbit and also performed scientific experiments for Russian and Japanese companies.

Whilst it is argued that John Glenn was essentially a tourist on his 1998 shuttle flight (STS-95), commercial space tourism did not resume for another ten years. MirCorp, a private venture by now 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 dismantle Mir was made, though, MirCorp opted to instead send Tito to the International Space Station.

On the 28th of April 2001 Tito became the second fee-paying space tourist when he visited the ISS for seven days. He was followed by South African computer millionaire Mark Shuttleworth. More individuals were interested in making the trip, such as boy band singer Lance Bass and scientist/entrepreneur Gregory Olsen. However, both trips were canceled — the former due to funding problems, the latter due to health concerns. After the Columbia disaster, space tourism on the Russian Soyuz program was temporarily put on hold, as Soyuz vehicles became the only available transport to the ISS.

The American company Space Adventures has an agreement with the Russian space agency Rosaviacosmos for a dedicated commercial flight to the ISS. The price for a trip on the Soyuz rocket is $20 million, with a preliminary launch date of 2005.

Commercial Space Flights

More affordable space tourism is viewed as a money-making proposition by several companies, including Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, Armadillo Aerospace, XCOR Aerospace, Rocket plane, and others. Most are proposing vehicles that make suborbital flights peaking at an altitude of 100 kilometres. Passengers would experience several minutes of weightlessness, a view of a twinkle-free starfield, and a vista of the curved Earth below. Projected costs are expected to be in the range of $100,000 per passenger, with costs dropping over time to $20,000.

Under current US law, any company proposing to launch paying passengers from American soil on a suborbital rocket must receive a license from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST). The licensing process focuses on public safety and safety of property, and the details can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 14, Chapter III.

Constellation Services International (CSI) is working on a project to send manned spacecraft on commercial circumlunar missions. Their offer would include a week-long stay at the ISS, as well as a week-long trip around the Moon. They expect to be operational by 2008, according to their best case scenario. Space Adventures Ltd. has also announced that they are working on lunar missions, also possibly in 2008 or 2009.

In the long term, orbital tourism may be superseded by planetary (and, later still, interstellar) tourism. Such possibilities have been explored in detail in many science fiction works.

More information about the future of Space Tourism can be found at Space Tourism Lecture, which is a free online handout collection. Since 2003 Dr. Robert A. Goehlich teaches the world’s first and only Space Tourism class at Keio University, Yokohama, Japan.

Space Hotels

In the late 1990s, some companies toyed with the idea of creating orbital hotels using discarded Shuttle fuel tanks or inflatable structures, but not much was done beyond feasibility studies.

More recently, American motel tycoon Robert Bigelow has acquired the designs of inflatable space habitats from the TransHab program abandoned by NASA. His company, Bigelow Aerospace is currently planning to launch a first orbital hotel by early 2006. Other companies have also expressed interest in constructing “space hotels”. For example, Virgin executive and billionaire Richard Branson has expressed his hope for the construction of a space hotel within his lifetime.

Answer the questions.

  • What is space tourism?
  • Who can afford space travelling?
  • Who provides transport for space travels?
  • What are the attractions of space travels?
  • What did intensive space exploration symbolize for many people?
  • Where are these aspirations remembered best? Why?
  • What did people think of space hotels and holidays on the Moon in 1960s?
  • What happened with the importance of space exploration after the Moon landing?
  • What was the situation in Russian space industry in post-Glasnost economy?
  • Who was the first person to fly into space for money?
  • What did he do while in space?
  • How long was his trip?
  • Who was the next space tourist?
  • When did the commercial flights resume?
  • Why did MirCorp seek for potential space tourists?
  • Who is Dennis Tito?
  • Why wasn’t he sent to the Mir station?
  • When and how long did Mr. Tito go to the ISS?
  • Who was the next tourist to visit ISS?
  • Why were two other trips cancelled?
  • Why was Russian Soyuz program put on hold for some time?
  • What is the price for a space trip?
  • What is the agreement between American Space Adventures and Russian Rosaviacosmos?
  • How is space tourism viewed by several American companies?
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