Space Tourism

Space Tourism

Michel van Pelt (European Space Agency (ESA), The Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-105-8.ch007

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2. History Of Orbital Space Tourism

As early as 1988, famous singer John Denver expressed a serious interest in becoming the first space tourist. He was planning to buy a flight to the Soviet Mir space station, but ultimately declined because of the $10 million ticket price and the long training period required. In 1990 Japanese journalist Toyohiro Akiyama was send to Mir by his employer, the television station TBS, for $12 million. Technically not a space tourist, because he did not go just for recreation and did not pay for the trip himself, he nevertheless demonstrated that ordinary, relatively untrained people can go into space without too much trouble.

The first British citizen in space was Helen Sharman, who was launched into orbit as part of a Russian Soyuz crew. Sharman was a research technologist for a confectionery company when she was selected for cosmonaut training by a company called Antequera Ltd., a London-based company fully owned by a Moscow bank. Antequera organized the flight to strengthen the ties between the Soviet Union and the UK, but hoped to raise sufficient money from sponsors to cover the cost. However, interest in the flight from private sponsors and the British government was very low and even while Sharman was already in training, Antequera was formally dissolved. The Soviet bank that owned the company decided, however, to sponsor the mission itself in the interest of propaganda and in 1991 Sharman was send into orbit. Although Sharman’s flight was not a fully private enterprise, it was not a normal government mission either.

The first person who can be regarded as a real space tourist was Dennis Tito, who was launched in 2001 onboard a Russian Soyuz capsule. Tito’s flight, arranged by the private company Space Adventures, took him to the International Space Station (ISS), where he and his crew spend a week before returning to Earth. Self-made millionaire Tito paid some $20 million for his flight; only a small part of his estimated wealth of $200 million but still a lot of money for a holiday trip. The Russians could use the money well to finance their commitments to the Space Station, as their budget for the year was hardly seven times higher than the price Tito paid. However, ISS partners NASA, the European Space Agency ESA, the Japanese Space Agency and Canada where less thrilled with having a tourist onboard their costly outpost. But they could not stop the Russians from flying Tito to the station, as each partner is allowed to select its own crews. NASA could only insist on Tito agreeing not to sue the space agency or its partners in the event of personal injury. He also would have had to pay for any damage he would cause during the flight. Tito nevertheless enjoyed his eight day flight, listening to opera music, shooting video and stereographic pictures of the Earth and floating from one part of the station to another. His first words when he entered the Space Station were “I love space”.

Figure 1.

The International Space Station (ISS) (Courtesy of NASA)

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