written by: Jason C. Chavis•edited by: George Adcock•updated: 6/1/2011
In the industry of space tourism, NASA commercial flights, Russian Soyuz spacecraft and private industry such as Virgin Galactic suborbital flights have changed the dynamics. By charging civilians for flights aboard the Soyuz and the ISS, a renewed interest in space travel created a new industry.
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People have already spent millions of dollars traveling on space tourism flights. Beginning in the early 2000s, the Russian Space Agency accepted financial compensation to fly people aboard the Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). To date, eight individuals have participated in space tourism flights, many also conducting experiments while aboard the station. Spending roughly $20 million for space tourism NASA commercial flights, Russian officials organize the program with the help of the Space Adventures company.
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How Space Tourism Started
Space tourism essentially began following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Russian Space Agency found itself suffering from a lack of funds in the post-Soviet era. In order to continue operating the expensive program, officials needed to find a new source of income. In addition, several countries without space programs of their own were in prime position to take advantage of Russia's situation.
Toyohiro Akiyama became the first non-cosmonaut to utilize the Russian Space Agency for a trip to space. In 1990, the journalist for the Tokyo Broadcasting System flew aboard a Soyuz spacecraft to the Mir Space Station for the cost of $28 million. He issued daily television broadcasts from the station and conducted various scientific experiments. Since his trip was funded by the Japanese news agency, he can be considered more of a business traveler rather than a tourist. However, this event started the policy of the Russian Soyuz to be used for civilian space travel.
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MirCorp and Space Adventures Bring the Dream to Life
In the 1990s, with the collapse of communism, much of the Russian space program was privatized. The company that gained control of the space station was known as MirCorp. As part of the company's objective for profit, it established the beginnings of space tourism. The first person to sign onto the MirCorp program was Dennis Tito, a multimillionaire scientist. He paid over $20 million for the opportunity. With the de-orbit of Mir in 2001, Tito's space flight was changed to a trip to the ISS. Working in conjunction with Space Adventures, a US-based company, MirCorps organized an eight-day excursion in which Tito flew aboard a Russian Soyuz to and from the ISS in mid-2001.
The Federal Space Agency of the Russian Federation flew another tourist the following year. Mark Shuttleworth, a South African computer programmer responsible for the Ubuntu operating system, became the second space tourist. He spent 11 days flying on the Russian Soyuz and conducting AIDS and genomic research aboard the ISS.
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Impact of the Columbia Disaster
The future of space tourism trips on the Russian Soyuz faced near cancellation in 2003 when the space shuttle Columbia broke up upon reentry. Concerns over safety for civilians as well as the fact that NASA halted all space flights made conditions challenging for Space Adventures, now primarily in charge of space tourism. Since the Soyuz was needed to ferry both astronauts and cosmonauts to the ISS, there was limited room for space tourists. However, with the return of the shuttle to space flight, the Russian Soyuz could commit to commercial activities once more. In 2005, Gregory Olsen joined the ranks of space tourist, conducting experiments in remote sensing and astronomy.
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More Soyuz Tourists
Space Adventures continues to fly space tourists aboard the Russian Soyuz.
On September 18, 2006, Anousheh Ansari, whose family sponsored the X-Prize, became the first woman to fly aboard the Soyuz as a space tourist. Working on behalf of the European Space Agency, she researched lower back pain, anemia and space radiation.
Charles Simonyi took part in two separate space flights to the ISS, one in 2007 and again in 2009. Notably, he contacted a number of schools via ham radio while aboard the station.
Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor spent 11 days in space in October 2007. The Malaysian orthopedic surgeon spent his time aboard the ISS researching the growth of cancer cells in the liver and blood stream. He also studied the protein lipase when crystallizing. Because Shiekh Muszaphar is a Muslim and the flight took place during Ramadan, specific concerns needed to be addressed. He helped develop a guidebook for future Muslims traveling to space, tackling issues such as locating Mecca for prayer and fasting with 90 minute day and night cycles.
The sixth space tourist, Richard Garriott traveled to the ISS in 2008. He has the distinction of being the first second-generation astronaut to go into space. His father flew aboard Skylab 3. While on the station, Garriott filmed the first science-fiction film shot in space called Apogee of Fear.
Guy Laliberte, the majority shareholder of Cirque Du Soleil, joined the ranks of space tourist with a flight that took place in September 2009. Using his status as a star, he brought attention to concerns over water and the oceans while aboard the ISS.
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Training for Space Tourism
Training for a space flight aboard the Soyuz is rigorous. Space tourists must go through all the same processes as a Russian cosmonaut. Preparation takes place at the Star City space training center. Each tourist goes through a dull physical and psychological evaluation to ensure they are fit for space flight. They train with spacesuits, how to maintain proper hygiene in a zero gravity environment and the proper procedures for food preparation and consumption. Tourists also must learn all emergency procedures and the basic operations of the Soyuz communication and life support in case of crew incapacitation. In addition, each person going to space must also take a daily language course to ensure they know a limited amount of Russian. In the event of the tourist failing to be able to take the flight, a backup tourist is also trained.
Space tourism has changed the way the Russian Space Agency operates. It gave the organization an additional influx of much-needed funds as well as brought renewed interest to space travel. In addition, newfound public interest helped stimulate the growth of the private space industry.
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"Canadian space tourist starts training for ISS mission" Rianovosti: http://en.rian.ru/world/20090610/155217685.html
"Space Tourism" Space Future: http://www.spacefuture.com/tourism/tourism.shtml
"Tourist-Class Soyuz Seats Open for International Space Station Trip" Space: http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/space_adventures_030618.html
"Space Tourist Richard Garriott Launched on Space Station Vacation" Universe Today: http://www.universetoday.com/2008/10/13/space-tourist-richard-garriot-launches-toward-space-station/
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Mark Shuttleworth. (Supplied by NASA; Public Domain; http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e4/Mark_Shuttleworth_NASA.jpg)
Soyuz spacecraft. (Supplied by NASA; Public Domain; http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bc/Soyuz_TMA-7_spacecraft2edit1.jpg)
Space tourism is a burgeoning industry spurred by the onset of new funds and a focus on the glory of space travel. After the completion of the X-Prize, Richard Branson leads the pack of entrepreneurs with his Virgin Galactic company, dedicated to bringing space flight to the masses.