Space tourism

This article is about paying space travellers. For other commercial spacefarers, see Commercial astronaut.
"Space tourist" redirects here. For persons in space other than professional astronauts, see Space flight participant. For the 2009 film, see Space Tourists.
Space tourist Mark Shuttleworth

Space tourism is space travel for recreational, leisure or business purposes. A number of startup companies have sprung up in recent years, such as Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace, hoping to create a sub-orbital space tourism industry. Orbital space tourism opportunities have been limited and expensive, with only the Russian Space Agency providing transport to date.

The publicized price for flights brokered by Space Adventures to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft have been US $20–40 million, during the period 2001–2009 when 7 space tourists made 8 space flights. Some space tourists have signed contracts with third parties to conduct certain research activities while in orbit.

Russia halted orbital space tourism in 2010 due to the increase in the International Space Station crew size, using the seats for expedition crews that would have been sold to paying spaceflight participants.[1][2] Orbital tourist flights are planned to resume in 2015.[3]

As an alternative term to "tourism", some organizations such as the Commercial Spaceflight Federation use the term "personal spaceflight". The Citizens in Space project uses the term "citizen space exploration".[4]

As of September 2012, multiple companies are offering sales of orbital and suborbital flights, with varying durations and creature comforts.[5]


The Soviet space program was aggressive in broadening the pool of cosmonauts. The Soviet Intercosmos program included cosmonauts selected from Warsaw Pact members (from Czechoslovakia, Poland, East Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania) and later from allies of the USSR (Cuba, Mongolia, Vietnam) and non-aligned countries (India, Syria, Afghanistan). Most of these cosmonauts received full training for their missions and were treated as equals, but especially after the Mir program began, were generally given shorter flights than Soviet cosmonauts. The European Space Agency (ESA) took advantage of the program as well.

The U.S. space shuttle program included payload specialist positions which were usually filled by representatives of companies or institutions managing a specific payload on that mission. These payload specialists did not receive the same training as professional NASA astronauts and were not employed by NASA. In 1983, Ulf Merbold from ESA and Byron Lichtenberg from MIT (engineer and Air Force fighter pilot) were the first payload specialists to fly on the Space Shuttle, on mission STS-9.[6][7]

In 1984, Charles D. Walker became the first non-government astronaut to fly, with his employer McDonnell Douglas paying $40,000 for his flight.[8]:74–75 NASA was also eager to prove its capability to Congressional sponsors. Senator Jake Garn was flown on the Shuttle in 1985,[9] followed by Representative Bill Nelson in 1986.[10]

During the 1970s, Shuttle prime contractor Rockwell International studied a $200–300 million removable cabin that could fit into the Shuttle's cargo bay. The cabin could carry up to 74 passengers into orbit for up to three days. Space Habitation Design Associates proposed, in 1983, a cabin for 72 passengers in the bay. Passengers were located in six sections, each with windows and its own loading ramp, and with seats in different configurations for launch and landing. Another proposal was based on the Spacelab habitation modules, which provided 32 seats in the payload bay in addition to those in the cockpit area. A 1985 presentation to the National Space Society stated that although flying tourists in the cabin would cost $1 to 1.5 million per passenger without government subsidy, within 15 years 30,000 people a year would pay $25,000 each to fly in space on new spacecraft. The presentation also forecast flights to lunar orbit within 30 years and visits to the lunar surface within 50 years.[11]

As the shuttle program expanded in the early 1980s, NASA began a Space Flight Participant program to allow citizens without scientific or governmental roles to fly. Christa McAuliffe was chosen as the first Teacher in Space in July 1985 from 11,400 applicants. 1,700 applied for the Journalist in Space program, including Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, Tom Wolfe, and Sam Donaldson. An Artist in Space program was considered, and NASA expected that after McAuliffe's flight two to three civilians a year would fly on the shuttle.[8] After McAuliffe was killed in the Challenger disaster in January 1986 the programs were canceled. McAuliffe's backup, Barbara Morgan, eventually got hired in 1998 as a professional astronaut and flew on STS-118 as a mission specialist.[8]:84–85 A second journalist-in-space program, in which NASA green-lighted Miles O'Brien to fly on the space shuttle, was scheduled to be announced in 2003. That program was canceled in the wake of the Columbia disaster on STS-107 and subsequent emphasis on finishing the International Space Station before retiring the space shuttle.

With the realities of the post-Perestroika economy in Russia, its space industry was especially starved for cash. The Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) offered to pay for one of its reporters to fly on a mission. For $28 million, Toyohiro Akiyama was flown in 1990 to Mir with the eighth crew and returned a week later with the seventh crew. Akiyama gave a daily TV broadcast from orbit and also performed scientific experiments for Russian and Japanese companies. However, since the cost of the flight was paid by his employer, Akiyama could be considered a business traveler rather than a tourist.

In 1991, British chemist Helen Sharman was selected from a pool of 13,000 applicants to be the first Briton in space.[12] The program was known as Project Juno and was a cooperative arrangement between the Soviet Union and a group of British companies. The Project Juno consortium failed to raise the funds required, and the program was almost cancelled. Reportedly Mikhail Gorbachev ordered it to proceed under Soviet expense in the interests of international relations, but in the absence of Western underwriting, less expensive experiments were substituted for those in the original plans. Sharman flew aboard Soyuz TM-12 to Mir and returned aboard Soyuz TM-11.

Orbital space tourism

At the end of the 1990s, MirCorp, a private venture that was by then in charge of the space station, began seeking potential space tourists to visit Mir in order to offset some of its maintenance costs. Dennis Tito, an American businessman and former JPL scientist, became their first candidate. When the decision to de-orbit Mir was made, Tito managed to switch his trip to the International Space Station (ISS) through a deal between MirCorp and U.S.-based Space Adventures, Ltd., despite strong opposition from senior figures at NASA; from the beginning of the ISS expeditions, NASA stated it wasn't interested in space guests.[13] Nonetheless, Dennis Tito visited the ISS on April 28, 2001, and stayed for seven days, becoming the first "fee-paying" space tourist. He was followed in 2002 by South African computer millionaire Mark Shuttleworth. The third was Gregory Olsen in 2005, who was trained as a scientist and whose company produced specialist high-sensitivity cameras. Olsen planned to use his time on the ISS to conduct a number of experiments, in part to test his company's products. Olsen had planned an earlier flight, but had to cancel for health reasons. The Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Committee On Science of the House of Representatives held on June 26, 2001 reveals the shifting attitude of NASA towards paying space tourists wanting to travel to the ISS. The hearing's purpose was to, "Review the issues and opportunities for flying nonprofessional astronauts in space, the appropriate government role for supporting the nascent space tourism industry, use of the Shuttle and Space Station for Tourism, safety and training criteria for space tourists, and the potential commercial market for space tourism".[14] The subcommittee report was interested in evaluating Dennis Tito's extensive training and his experience in space as a nonprofessional astronaut.

By 2007, space tourism was thought to be one of the earliest markets that would emerge for commercial spaceflight.[15]:11 However, as of 2014 this private exchange market has not emerged to any significant extent.

Space Adventures remains the only company to have sent paying passengers to space.[16][17] In conjunction with the Federal Space Agency of the Russian Federation and Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, Space Adventures facilitated the flights for all of the world's first private space explorers. The first three participants paid in excess of $20 million (USD) each for their 10-day visit to the ISS.

After the Columbia disaster, space tourism on the Russian Soyuz program was temporarily put on hold, because Soyuz vehicles became the only available transport to the ISS. On July 26, 2005, Space Shuttle Discovery (mission STS-114) marked the shuttle's return to space. Consequently, in 2006, space tourism was resumed. On September 18, 2006, an Iranian American businesswoman named Anousheh Ansari became the fourth space tourist (Soyuz TMA-9).[18]) On April 7, 2007, Charles Simonyi, an American businessman of Hungarian descent, joined their ranks (Soyuz TMA-10). Simonyi became the first repeat space tourist, paying again to fly on Soyuz TMA-14 in March–April 2009. Canadian Guy Laliberté became the next space tourist in September, 2009 aboard Soyuz TMA-16.

As reported by Reuters on March 3, 2010, Russia announced that the country would double the number of launches of three-man Soyuz ships to four that year, because "permanent crews of professional astronauts aboard the expanded [ISS] station are set to rise to six"; regarding space tourism, the head of the Russian Cosmonauts' Training Center said "for some time there will be a break in these journeys".[1]

On January 12, 2011, Space Adventures and the Russian Federal Space Agency announced that orbital space tourism would resume in 2013 with the increase of manned Soyuz launches to the ISS from four to five per year.[19] However, this has not materialized, and the current preferred option, instead of producing an additional Soyuz, would be to extend the duration of an ISS Expedition to one year, paving the way for the flight of new spaceflight participants. The British singer Sarah Brightman initiated plans (costing a reported $52 million) and participated in preliminary training in early 2015, expecting to then fly (and to perform while in orbit) in September 2015, but in May 2015 she postponed the plans indefinitely.[3][20][21]

List of flown space tourists

Space tourist Photo Nationality Year Duration of flight Flight Amount paid (USD) Source of wealth
1. Dennis Tito  United States 2001 8 days (Apr 28 – May 6) Launch: Soyuz TM-32
Return: Soyuz TM-31
$20 million (estimated)[22] Investment management
(Wilshire Associates)
2. Mark Shuttleworth  South Africa
 United Kingdom
2002 11 days (April 25 – May 5) Launch: Soyuz TM-34
Return: Soyuz TM-33
$20 million (estimated)[23] Internet security certificates
3. Gregory Olsen  United States 2005 11 days (October 1 – 11) Launch: Soyuz TMA-7
Return: Soyuz TMA-6
$20 million (estimated)[24] Optoelectronic sensors
(Sensors Unlimited, Inc.)
4. Anousheh Ansari  United States
2006 12 days (September 18 – 29) Launch: Soyuz TMA-9
Return: Soyuz TMA-8
$20 million (estimated)[25] VoIP software
(Telecom Technologies, Inc.)
5. Charles Simonyi  United States
2007 15 days (April 7 – 21) Launch: Soyuz TMA-10
Return: Soyuz TMA-9
$25 million (estimated)[26] Desktop software
(Microsoft Office)
2009 14 days (March 26 – April 8) Launch: Soyuz TMA-14
Return: Soyuz TMA-13
$35 million (estimated)[26]
6. Richard Garriott[27]  United States
 United Kingdom
2008 12 days (October 12 – 23) Launch: Soyuz TMA-13
Return: Soyuz TMA-12
$30 million (estimated)[28] Video games
(Origin Systems)
7. Guy Laliberté  Canada 2009 11 days (September 30 – October 11) Launch: Soyuz TMA-16
Return: Soyuz TMA-14
$40 million (estimated)[29] Performance art
(Cirque du Soleil)

Proposed orbital ventures

Several plans have been proposed for using a space station as a hotel:

Suborbital flights

No suborbital space tourism has occurred yet, but since it is projected to be more affordable, many companies view it as a money-making proposition. Most are proposing vehicles that make suborbital flights peaking at an altitude of 100–160 km (62–99 mi).[38] Passengers would experience three to six minutes of weightlessness, a view of a twinkle-free starfield, and a vista of the curved Earth below. Projected costs are expected to be about $200,000 per passenger.[39]



Under the Outer Space Treaty signed in 1967, the launch operator's nationality and the launch site's location determine which country is responsible for any damages occurred from a launch.[54]

After valuable resources were detected on the Moon, private companies began to formulate methods to extract the resources. Article II of the Outer Space Treaty dictates that "outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means".[55] However, countries have the right to freely explore the Moon and any resources collected are property of that country when they return.

United States

In December 2005, the U.S. Government released a set of proposed rules for space tourism.[56] These included screening procedures and training for emergency situations, but not health requirements.

Under current US law, any company proposing to launch paying passengers from American soil on a suborbital rocket must receive a license from the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST). The licensing process focuses on public safety and safety of property, and the details can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 14, Chapter III.[57] This is in accordance with the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act passed by Congress in 2004.[58]

In March 2010, the New Mexico legislature passed the Spaceflight Informed Consent Act. The SICA gives legal protection to companies who provide private space flights in the case of accidental harm or death to individuals. Participants sign an Informed Consent waiver, dictating that spaceflight operators can not be held liable in the "death of a participant resulting from the inherent risks of space flight activities". Operators are however not covered in the case of gross negligence or willful misconduct.[59]

Environmental effects

A 2010 study published in Geophysical Research Letters raised concerns that the growing commercial spaceflight industry could accelerate global warming. The study, funded by NASA and The Aerospace Corporation, simulated the impact of 1,000 suborbital launches of hybrid rockets from a single location, calculating that this would release a total of 600 tonnes of black carbon into the stratosphere. They found that the resultant layer of soot particles remained relatively localised, with only 20% of the carbon straying into the southern hemisphere, thus creating a strong hemispherical asymmetry.[60] This unbalance would cause the temperature to decrease by about 0.4 °C (0.72 °F) in the tropics and subtropics, whereas the temperature at the poles would increase by between 0.2 and 1 °C (0.36 and 1.80 °F). The ozone layer would also be affected, with the tropics losing up to 1.7% of ozone cover, and the polar regions gaining 5–6%.[61] The researchers stressed that these results should not be taken as "a precise forecast of the climate response to a specific launch rate of a specific rocket type", but as a demonstration of the sensitivity of the atmosphere to the large-scale disruption that commercial space tourism could bring.[60]

Education and advocacy

Several organizations have been formed to promote the space tourism industry, including the Space Tourism Society, Space Future, and HobbySpace. UniGalactic Space Travel Magazine is a bi-monthly educational publication covering space tourism and space exploration developments in companies like SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, Virgin Galactic and organizations like NASA.

Classes in space tourism are currently taught at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York,[62] and Keio University in Japan.[63]

Attitudes toward space tourism

A web-based survey suggested that over 70% of those surveyed wanted less than or equal to 2 weeks in space; in addition, 88% wanted to spacewalk (only 14% of these would do it for a 50% premium), and 21% wanted a hotel or space station.[64]

The concept has met with some criticism from some, including politicians, notably Günter Verheugen, vice-president of the European Commission, who said of the EADS Astrium Space Tourism Project: "It's only for the super rich, which is against my social convictions".[65]

Space Race television show

As of October 2013, NBC News and Virgin Galactic have come together to create a new reality television show titled Space Race. The show "will follow contestants as they compete to win a flight into space aboard Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane. It is not to be confused with the Children's Space TV show called "Space Racers""[66]


Many private space travelers have objected to the term "space tourist", often pointing out that their role went beyond that of an observer, since they also carried out scientific experiments in the course of their journey. Richard Garriott additionally emphasized that his training was identical to the requirements of non-Russian Soyuz crew members, and that teachers and other non-professional astronauts chosen to fly with NASA are called astronauts. He has said that if the distinction has to be made, he would rather be called "private astronaut" than "tourist".[67] Dennis Tito has asked to be known as an "independent researcher", and Mark Shuttleworth described himself as a "pioneer of commercial space travel".[68] Gregory Olsen prefers "private researcher",[69] and Anousheh Ansari prefers the term "private space explorer".[18] Other space enthusiasts object to the term on similar grounds. Rick Tumlinson of the Space Frontier Foundation, for example, has said: "I hate the word tourist, and I always will ... 'Tourist' is somebody in a flowered shirt with three cameras around his neck."[70] Russian cosmonaut Maksim Surayev told the press in 2009 not to describe Guy Laliberté as a tourist: "It's become fashionable to speak of space tourists. He is not a tourist but a participant in the mission."[71]

"Spaceflight participant" is the official term used by NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency to distinguish between private space travelers and career astronauts. Tito, Shuttleworth, Olsen, Ansari, and Simonyi were designated as such during their respective space flights. NASA also lists Christa McAuliffe as a spaceflight participant (although she did not pay a fee), apparently due to her non-technical duties aboard the STS-51-L flight.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration awards the title of "Commercial Astronaut" to trained crew members of privately funded spacecraft. The only people currently holding this title are Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie, the pilots of SpaceShipOne.

Expected economic growth

A 2010 report from the Federal Aviation Administration, titled "The Economic Impact of Commercial Space Transportation on the U. S Economy in 2009", cites studies done by Futron, an aerospace and technology-consulting firm, which predict that space tourism could become a billion-dollar market within 20 years.[72] In addition, in the decade since Dennis Tito journeyed to the International Space Station, eight private citizens have paid the $20 million fee to travel to space. Space Adventures suggests that this number could increase fifteen-fold by 2020.[73] These figures do not include other private space agencies such as Virgin Galactic, which as of 2014 has sold approximately 700 tickets priced at $200,000 or $250,000 dollars each and has accepted more than $80 million in deposits.[74]

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