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$100 Million Moon Trip: Space Tourism's Hot Ticket?

Victoria Gilman
National Geographic News
August 10, 2005
 
Working with Russian space officials, a private firm plans to sell a flyby trip to the moon. Price per passenger: 100 million dollars (U.S.).

If the plan takes off, two space tourists and their pilot would spend 10 to 21 days crammed in a passenger car-size Soyuz space module.

The length of the trip depends on whether it includes a stop at the International Space Station.

Space Adventures, based in Arlington, Virginia, today announced their agreement with the Russian Aviation and Space Agency for a lunar look-see—the latest, most ambitious trip offered to private space tourists.

Organizers say the trip could launch in three to four years.

Citizen astronauts able and willing to cover the sky-high cost of the spaceflight would first have to undergo six to eight months of extensive training and mission preparation.

"This is an expedition, not a trip to the beach," said Space Adventures chief executive Eric Anderson. "Sure they're private citizens. But they're also explorers, like the people who first climbed Mount Everest."

In addition to learning how to control the Soyuz module, the space tourists would train for a host of tasks said to advance science and space knowledge.

Duties might include conducting onboard experiments, taking digital images, and collecting data on space phenomena, according to Anderson.

After the training period, the "crew" would take off from Kazakhstan aboard a Russian-designed Soyuz rocket.

Soviet engineers designed the Soyuz in the 1960s for unmanned missions to the moon. The craft has since been modified to send cosmonauts to the various Russian space stations.

"The Russian vehicles are fairly small," noted John Spencer, founder and president of the Space Tourism Society, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that seeks to boost private space travel.

In 2001 U.S. financier Dennis Tito became the first space tourist when he rode in a Soyuz capsule to visit the International Space Station. Mark Shuttleworth, a South African businessman, made a similar trip in 2002.

The particular Soyuz craft dedicated to the future moon voyage doesn't have enough power for the full return trip. Russian engineers therefore plan to send up a booster rocket that would dock with the craft in orbit or be attached at the space station.

Given the high cost of the hundred-million-dollar trip, only the world's superrich could afford such a trip. But Anderson and Spencer both expect prices to drop as interest in privately run expeditions increases.

"Space tourism over the next 50 years will be a unique, expensive proposition," Spencer said. "As the industry grows, we will have hundreds of thousands of people going and costs will go down."

Anderson, of Space Adventures, said, "We have to find early adopters willing to lead the way."

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