Space Tourism is the term used for pleasure or study trips to space. So far, all space tourists have visited the International Space Station (ISS) for one to two weeks. At the moment, there are some suborbital flights. Also planned are orbits of the Earth lasting several days without an ISS stay and a circumnavigation of the Moon.
According to assessments, surveys and studies of the tourism industry, there is basically a pronounced desire among many people to fly into space. According to space experts, this desire could become an important driving force for the further development of space travel in the medium term.
In 1964, the then US airline Pan American complied with the wish of Austrian journalist Gerhart Pistor to book a ticket to the moon and drew up a plan to start tourist space flights by the year 2000. It even opened a waiting list for potential passengers, which grew to 93,000 interested parties by 1989. Such scheduled space flights are also depicted in detail in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. But in 1991 PanAm was liquidated and its plans became wastepaper.
In 1997, the tourism company Thomas Cook took up the idea of a free waiting list for package tours to the moon again with its "Moon Register" project. The idea also received a boost from the General Public Space Travel and Tourism study prepared by NASA on 25 July 1998.
Dennis Tito's trip to the ISS from 28 April to 6 May 2001 is generally regarded as the birth of space tourism. The second space tourist was Ubuntu inventor Mark Shuttleworth, who was the first South African to launch into space and visit the ISS on 25 April 2002. Both paid about 20 million US dollars for their flight on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. On 1 October 2005, the US American Gregory Olsen, entrepreneur of Sensor Unlimited Inc, took off for the ISS on a Soyuz spacecraft. At first he was not approved for the flight after medical tests, but later he was given permission. Iranian-born Anousheh Ansari became the first space tourist to launch to the ISS on a Soyuz spacecraft on 18 September 2006. She paid around 16 million euros for her space flight in 2006. The cinema documentary Space Tourists shows her preparations for the flight. Charles Simonyi is the only space tourist to have flown twice (25 and 35 million US dollars respectively). Russian entrepreneur Sergei Yuryevich Polonsky from Saint Petersburg also planned a flight to the ISS.
Private space companies, such as Virgin Galactic, have also been trying to develop their own launch vehicles and spacecraft for years. Further stimulation came from the 1996 Ansari X-Prize competition. This rewarded the first manned space flight realised by a private operator with ten million US dollars. On 21 June 2004, the first manned suborbital flight took place with the SpaceShipOne spacecraft, which had been planned and built solely with private funds. The developers' declared goal is to make space accessible to tourists at a reasonably affordable price.
Training sessions for prospective space tourists, such as test flights with spaceship simulators or parabolic flights, are offered commercially at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City near Moscow and by various providers in the USA. In 2003/04, such flights were also offered from Germany and Austria, but have since been discontinued for legal reasons.
In March 2004, the US House of Representatives decided that private companies should in future be able to obtain permits more quickly for tests with spaceships for commercial flights into space. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was to supervise space tourism in future and set requirements for the qualification of space crews. The bill still had to be passed in the US Senate.
The British company Virgin Galactic is planning to offer regular flights up to beyond the atmosphere (defined as 100 km altitude) for around $200,000. This will make space tourism more accessible to people other than the extremely wealthy. On 27 July 2009, Richard Branson showed the Mother Ship Eve in Wisconsin, which is to carry out sub-orbital space flights in the future using spacecraft with paying passengers. Eventually, such a trip should cost around 10,000 dollars in order to tap into really large markets. Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo spacecraft (built by The SpaceShipCompany, a joint venture between Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites) made some test flights in 2018 and 2019. There was a successful test flight on 11 July 2021, with the rocket craft piloted by two pilots, and with Branson and three of his closest associates as passengers. The flight took off from Spaceport America. The altitude reached was 90 km.
Blue Origins New Shepard was also developed for this purpose. The first flight with a space tourist (Blue Origin NS-16) was on 20 July 2021. Bezos went on this flight himself, as well as his brother. Also on board was 82-year-old Wally Funk, who in the 1960s, the early days of manned space travel with the Mercury programme in the US, in which only men could become astronauts, was the youngest member of the Mercury 13 team, a group of 13 women who had successfully undergone tests and were trained so that a first female American astronaut could possibly be chosen from them, but this did not happen. Also on board was 18-year-old Dutchman Oliver Daemen. The latter two are the oldest and youngest, respectively, to have ever been in space. The launch was from Corn Ranch, Texas. 5] Daemen's father had bid on this trip at an auction. When the highest bidder, who offered $28 million, decided not to participate, Daemen took his place. It is not known how much was bid for him.
Blue Origin has an orbital launcher-spaceship combination called New Glenn in development that could also be used for space tourism. As well as a moon rocket called New Armstrong.
A flight around the Moon (free return trajectory) is planned for 2023 with the Starship (still under development). The Japanese Yusaku Maezawa (CEO of ZOZO) has agreed with SpaceX to go on this flight (for an undisclosed sum) and to bring along six to eight top artists, to be selected by him, as part of an art project called dearMoon. The intention is that the flight will inspire these artists to create extraordinary new works of art. Maezawa is considering artists such as a film director, painter, dancer, novelist, musician, fashion designer, sculptor, photographer and an architect. In addition, one or more SpaceX staff members will accompany the flight, as pilot/astronaut.
In September 2021, SpaceX will take four space tourists into orbit with Inspiration4 for three days. This will be the first space flight with only non-astronauts on board.
Also in 2022, SpaceX will conduct a five-day orbital flight for up to four space tourists at an altitude between 800 and 1200 km above the Earth. This flight has been booked by space travel agency Space Adventures.
A Crew Dragon flight to the ISS has also been booked by Axiom Technologies for three space tourists and a tour guide. Axiom, with support from NASA, is building five commercial modules for the ISS that can later continue as an independent commercial space station.
In October 2021, a Russian actress and a film producer, yet to be selected, will travel to the ISS on Soyuz MS-19 to shoot a film. They will travel back on Soyuz MS-18.
Also, in December 2021, two space tourists will travel to the ISS aboard Soyuz MS-20: Yusaku Maezawa and his production assistant Yozo Hirano will do so together in preparation for the dearMoon project. That flight will last 12 days and has been booked through space travel agency Space Adventures. For 2023, Space Adventures has booked a space tourism Soyuz flight to the ISS with a spacewalk.
Space Tourism Companies
The undisputed market leader for Space Tourism has so far been the company Space Adventures. As a service provider, this company arranged all seven space tourists to date. The flights were operated by the Russian state space agency Roskosmos on board Soyuz spacecraft. For the Soyuz MS-20 mission from December 2021 to January 2022, Spaceflight Adventures has arranged with Roskosmos to transport two more tourists to the ISS. The company is also planning a flight to low Earth orbit for up to four people on SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Also using chartered Crew Dragons, Axiom Space hopes to take tourists to the ISS from 2022. The company is also planning to attach its own space station to the ISS. Axiom is cooperating with NASA on these projects.
British entrepreneur Richard Branson's company Virgin Galactic was founded specifically for the purpose of space tourism. According to its own information, the company has already had 7000 interested parties for a suborbital flight at a price of around 200,000 US dollars and more than 500 bookings. Branson announced in 2006 that he would offer and operate scheduled flights into space from 2008, which is still planned for a later date. For the time being, only short flights to the frontier of space are to be made with the space glider SpaceShipTwo.
The US space company Blue Origin also wants to offer suborbital flights. It developed the reusable New Shepard rocket for this purpose, which takes a space capsule to an altitude of over 100 kilometres for a short time. The system has been in testing since 2015 and is expected to be available to tourists from 2021.
Crew Dragon manufacturer SpaceX is also offering the spacecraft directly for tourist flights; the first of these short trips lasting several days is planned for September 2021 at the earliest with the Inspiration4 mission. In addition, SpaceX is planning a manned flight to the moon with the Starship spacecraft under the project name Dear Moon, which is still in development. The target launch date is 2023. In September 2018, SpaceX presented the Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa as sponsor of this mission. Maezawa will not only take part in the moon flight himself, but will also invite several artists from different backgrounds to take part. The works they subsequently create are intended to "awaken the dreamer in all of us."
Since 2006, EADS subsidiary Astrium Space Transportation has been designing a business jet-like spacecraft that would carry a pilot and four passengers to an altitude of 100 km. The flight itself was to last about two hours, with several minutes of weightlessness. Astrium reckoned that the first commercial flights would have been possible about seven years after funding was secured. Critics accused EADS of copying the Rocketplane concept from its competitor Rocketplane Limited, Inc. The latter was building a very similar spacecraft based on a Learjet until the end of 2007, but had to abandon it due to economic difficulties. Austrian Penny Markt stores offered orbital package tours in advance in 2010. The flights were to be operated by Rocketplane, but this did not stop the company's insolvency, which occurred in the same year.
The company Bigelow Aerospace was working on the development of a space hotel. A first test satellite called Genesis 1 was launched on 12 July 2006; in addition, the BEAM module has been in test at the ISS since April 2016. Tourist flights to the ISS were also planned at a price of 52 million US dollars per person; Bigelow wanted to charter the Crew Dragon spacecraft from SpaceX for this purpose. However, the implementation had proved too complicated due to the many organisations involved in the ISS. Shortly afterwards, Bigelow discontinued the operation; in the meantime, NASA's new partner for tourist ISS stays was Axiom Space.
Before 2020, the Russian company RKK Energija, in cooperation with Space Adventures, wanted to offer flights around the Earth's moon with a modified Soyuz spacecraft for 150 million US dollars. The project was called DSE-Alpha. The crew was to consist of a professional Russian cosmonaut and two tourists; according to RKK Energija, the flight of a single tourist would not be profitable. In 2014, contracts were signed with two potential tourists.
Space tourism is criticised by the environmental movement. The high energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions would, with a large increase in space tourism, reinforce the greenhouse effect and constitute an enormous assault on the environment. In contrast to regular space travel, there is (usually) no scientific benefit in return. However, rockets powered by hydrogen (such as the New Shepard) have hardly any polluting emissions. However, the CO2 emissions from hydrogen production must be taken into account.
There was also criticism from former astronaut John Glenn who felt that space tourism was commercialising space in a "cheap" way, Ironically, Glenn himself was criticised in 1998 when, after retiring from NASA and becoming a senator, he made a flight on the Space Shuttle, which was seen as a junket for an important senator and a PR stunt for NASA. So it can be argued that Glenn was a space tourist himself at the time.
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