Against the classic backdrop of New York City’s Explorers Club, a brash entrepreneurial space company held a press conference today to announce its latest customers, who have pledged to pay exorbitant prices to take pleasure cruises to space. In a sign that the space tourism market is taking off, the company’s executives also declared that business is so strong that they’re leasing more seats from their partner, the Russian space agency.
The company, Space Adventures, is playing up the scientific and educational possibilities of each mission, seemingly trying to dispel the notion that astronomically wealthy folks are spending bushels of money just to take pretty pictures of Earth from the International Space Station.
“Space tourism isn’t the right word for what we do,” said company CEO Eric Anderson. “It’s space exploration.” …Tickets are still cosmically expensive — Space Adventures announced that Google co-founder Sergey Brin has paid $5 million to reserve a seat on their first solo run, with the bulk of the bill still to come — but Anderson says the price will drop as the industry grows. “It is expensive, and will be for many years,” he said. “It will never get less expensive without investment” [Wired News].
Space Adventures is currently the only company to offer private citizens trips to the International Space Station, and has also proposed the first private space flight around the moon (at the price of $100 million per seat, no one has volunteered for the lunar mission yet).
American businessman Denis Tito was their first customer when he paid a reported $20 million for a trip to the space station in 2001, and five more people have since gone up with Space Adventures. The company handles training and logistics for the flight, but books seats for its customers on the Russian Soyuz spacecrafts that go up to the station about every six months.
Each previous customer has tagged along as the only tourist on the Russian mission. Now, Space Adventures is offering two customers the chance to go up together, and says this amounts to the “first private mission” to the space station. At the station, the two tourists can engage in science, education and media projects, Anderson said.
Eric Anderson, the chief executive of Space Adventures, said that the deal meant “we become a space mission company, not simply a seller of seats.” Future missions could take travelers to other destinations like privately run space stations, he said.
The move to a purchased mission is “a different paradigm,” said Dr. John Logsdon, the director of the space policy institute at George Washington University, and could help NASA determine what it ought to be paying for its own passage to the station aboard the Soyuz craft [The New York Times].