Space Tourists: a cinematic journey to the ISS (w/ Audio Interview)

Space Tourists airs tonight on the Documentary Channel at 8pm & 11pm

When Anousheh Ansari boarded the International Space Station on September 20th, 2006, she became the first self-funded female, the first Iranian citizen, and the fourth human overall to enter the Earth’s orbit as a coveted ‘space tourist’.

After building and selling a large telecom business, Ansari had decided that she would pay over $20 million USD to take a ride on the Russian Soyuz TMA-9 and orbit Earth as a crew member of the International Space Station for 8 days. While training as a backup for Daisuke Enomoto, who failed to meet the required medical qualifications, Ansari was notified that her lifelong dream would be fulfilled – with only one month remaining before liftoff.

Meanwhile, without Ansari’s knowledge, a charismatic Swiss filmmaker had begun to collect material for a documentary that explored the peculiar circumstances of the Russian space tourism industry. Gathering footage at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia and at the Baikonur Cosmodrome (the Soyuz’s launch facility), filmmaker Christian Frei began to lay the foundation for what would become the first documentary to uncover a highly exclusive and secretive world.

The finished product, Space Tourists, debuted in the US at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Thought it never had an overwhelming reception in North America, it is arguably one of the most fascinating travel-themed documentaries to have been produced in recent years and a must-see for anyone with a sense of adventure or a distant dream of venturing to space.

Frei’s film uncovers many facets of the Russian space tourism program that are especially compelling to watch unfold on the big screen.

From the pre-launch rituals at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, to the group of men that make a living by hunting down and recovering the enormous scrap metal that falls to Earth from every Soyuz launch; Frei’s film captures an incredible spectrum of physical environments, people/cultures, and brilliantly contrasts the magnificence of spaceflight in direct contrast with the trivial hardships of life on Earth.

It’s a film that’s both visually arresting and offers to bring the viewer on a journey with each of the characters that it follows – from training to touchdown and everywhere in between.

Space Tourists is currently being featured on the Documentary Channel airing tonight at 8pm and 11pm, or available on DVD via the Documentary Channel online store.

Click below for an exclusive, uncut interview with Anousheh Ansari & filmmaker Christian Frei:

Video of the Day – Flying over Earth on the ISS

If you haven’t seen this video since its emergence on the internet in the past two days, stop whatever you’re doing, plug in your best headphones, quit your other applications (so you can watch in silky smooth HD), and full-screen this amazing compilation of moving images.

Edited by Michael König, this time-lapse was created by stitching together a series of still images shot by astronauts Ron Garan, Satoshi Furukawa, and the crews of expeditions 28 & 29 onboard the International Space Station. Shot from an altitude of 350km between August and October 2011, the images were captured at 4K resolution with NASA’s Super-Sensitive High Definition TV system.

The imaging system picks up much more light than a normal HD camera is capable of, thus capturing a vivid look at the surface of the Earth and aurora borealis that’s unlike anything humanity has seen before.

Assuming that you don’t have $1 million to book an entire Virgin Galactic flight exclusively for your family, this video should be a pleasant placeholder until you get your finances in order. Until then, leave us a comment with a link to your favorite shots from the ground! It could be our next Photo/Video of the Day.

Russian firm reveals plans for a “space hotel”

space hotel

The newest hotel plans in development are far out … literally. Russian firm Orbital Technologies revealed plans for a space hotel at a conference in Moscow this week. The hotel has a predicted 2016 opening, the Daily Mail reports.

Initial data suggests that a five day stay will cost around £100,000, not counting transportation costs of £250,000+.

The “hotel” will be “far more comfortable” than the International Space Station, says Orbital CEO Sergei Kostenko, and will feature seven guests in four cabins. The hotel “pod” will occupy 706 cubic feet and feature massive windows 217 miles above earth and be accessible via Russian Soyuz rockets.

Beds will have a horizontal or vertical option as well as sealed showers.

“Our planned module inside will not remind you of the ISS,” Kostenko said. “The hotel will be aimed at wealthy individuals and people working for private companies who want to do research in space.”

Kostenko aims to have his project finished before that of Virgin exec Richard Branson.

What do you think? Would you visit the space hotel?


50th Anniversary of Space Travel: What's Next?

National Geographic celebrates the last space shuttle mission ever

Space Shuttle Atlantis blasted off on its last mission everYesterday morning, at 11:30 AM Eastern Time, the Space Shuttle Atlantis blasted off on the last shuttle mission ever. For fans and proponents of space exploration, it was a bittersweet moment to say the least. To celebrate what truly is the end of an era, National Geographic has updated their Space Shuttle Hub page with a look back at the storied vehicle’s tragic and triumphant history.

At various times, NASA‘s fleet of space shuttles has included five different vehicles, including the Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavor. The Nat Geo page covers all of them, and even has articles discussing the two orbiters that were lost – the Challenger, which exploded shortly after take-off back in 1986 and Columbia, which tragically burned up on re-entry in 2003. Other articles celebrate the many achievements of the shuttle program over the three decades they have been in service however, giving the remaining three vehicles the final send-off they richly deserve.

During this final flight of the Atlantis, National Geographic space editor Victoria Jaggard will also be posting regular blog updates on the progress of the mission. She has already covered the launch and will continue to add more thoughts and commentary until the shuttle returns to Earth in about two weeks time.

Tomorrow, the Atlantis is scheduled to rendezvous with the International Space Station one final time. While there, the astronauts on board will resupply the ISS and perform routine maintenance on the station, which will be serviced by Russian Soyuz spacecraft in the foreseeable future.

Space tourism celebrates tenth anniversary

space tourism, Dennis Tito
Space tourism
is ten years old this week. On 28 April 2001 millionaire Dennis Tito became the first person to go into space as a tourist and not an astronaut or scientist.

In an interview with BBC today he talked about how thrilled he was and called his eight days being in orbit “paradise.”

While space tourism is the ultimate in high-cost adventure travel–only seven people have done it so far and Tito is said to have paid $20 million for the privilege–private companies are hoping to make it more widely available. They also want to make it more comfortable. Tito was crammed “elbow to elbow” in a Russian capsule after NASA refused to put him on one of the Space Shuttles. Not that he cared at the time. Check out this video of Dennis Tito’s arrival at the International Space Station. The guy’s euphoric!

A number of private companies are looking into commercial space travel. The most serious contender is Virgin Galactic, which has already built a spaceport and put their spaceship Enterprise through a test flight. The company hopes to push an orbital trip down to $200,000, just one percent of what Tito paid. Who knows? Maybe good old free-market competition will push the price even lower than that.

Even more ambitious is Excalibur Almaz, a company based in the Isle of Man that has bought some Russian space capsules that they’re refurbishing. They boast that they’ll offer trips around the Moon by 2015.

Best of luck folks, but I won’t be looking for a Lonely Planet Outer Space in the bookstores anytime soon.

[Photo courtesy NASA]