Photo courtesy NASA
Commercial Space Travel
Russia's Mir space station was supposed to be the first destination for space tourists. But in March 2001, the Russian Aerospace Agency brought Mir down into the Pacific Ocean. As it turned out, bringing down Mir only temporarily delayed the first tourist trip into space.
The Mir crash did cancel plans for a new reality-based game show from NBC, which was going to be called Destination Mir. The Survivor-like TV show was scheduled to air in fall 2001. Participants on the show were to go through training at Russia's cosmonaut training center, Star City. Each week, one of the participants would be eliminated from the show, with the winner receiving a trip to the Mir space station. Mir's demise rules out NBC's space plans for now. NASA is against beginning space tourism until the International Space Station is completed in 2006.
Russia is not alone in its interest in space tourism. There are several projects underway to commercialize space travel. Here are a few of the groups that might take you to space:
- Bigelow Aerospace, formed by Budget Suites of America hotels owner Robert Bigelow, hopes to make "habitable space stations affordable for corporate communities."
- Space Island Group is going to build a ring-shaped, rotating "commercial space infrastructure" that will resemble the Discovery spacecraft in the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey." Space Island says it will build its space city out of empty NASA space-shuttle fuel tanks (to start, it should take around 12 or so), and place it about 400 miles (644 km) above Earth. The space city will rotate once per minute to create a gravitational pull one-third as strong as Earth's.
- The X Prize is a national contest that offered $10 million to the first private company to develop a reusable launch vehicle (RLV) capable of carrying the general public into space. In October 2004, Scaled Composites, a California based company, won the prize with SpaceShipOne. See How SpaceShipOne Works to learn more.
- According to their vision statement, Space Adventures plans to "fly tens of thousands of people in space over the next 10-15 years and beyond, both orbital and suborbital, around the moon, and back, from spaceports both on Earth and in space, to and from private space stations, and aboard dozens of different vehicles ..."
- Even Hilton Hotels has shown interest in the space tourism industry and the possibility of building or co-funding a space hotel. However, the company did say that it believes such a space hotel is 15 to 20 years away.