Presidential hopeful promises travel to the Moon, Mars

Renewed interest in travel to the Moon and Mars? It was just the song that Florida voters wanted to hear. After a virtual grounding of the U.S. space program not long ago, the promise yesterday by republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich to bring multiple daily launches to Florida was music to their ears. A permanent base on the Moon and new technology that would enable quick flights to Mars sweetened the deal.

“By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be American,” said Gingrich at a rally in Cocoa on Florida’s Spacecoast reports Spaceflight Now.

To pay for that and more, Gingrich suggested setting aside 10 percent of NASA’s budget (about $1 billion) for prize incentives aimed at the commercial space sector with a focus on developing new technology (warp drive?) to make flight faster.

Continuing his grandiose plan, Gingrich added “We will have commercial near-Earth activities that include science, tourism and manufacturing and are designed to create a robust industry precisely on the model of the development of the airlines in the 1930s because it is in our interest to acquire so much experience in space that we clearly have a capacity that the Chinese and Russians will never come anywhere close to matching.”If that plan happens, there is no shortage of commercial operations that might be in line for that cash. But the space community, operating in the real world, has been headed in a different direction, already funding commercial space ventures.

In preparation for the future, NASA has awarded $millions to several private contractors in the last few years for the construction of space taxi’s able to fly to the International Space Station now that the shuttles have been retired.

Called the Commercial Crew Development Program, NASA’s goal in 2011’s round of grants was “to accelerate the availability of U.S. commercial crew transportation capabilities and reduce the gap in American human spaceflight capability. Through this activity, NASA also may be able to spur economic growth as potential new space markets are created,” the space agency said in a press release at the time.

One such new market already has a player. Space Adventures already has experience as the only company to have booked and offered commercial space travel, delivering astronauts to the International Space Station for a round-trip price of $150 million.

“The moon holds a special place in all of our hearts. It’s a symbol of the space future that humanity wishes for, a symbol of our curiosity, and something that we see every night. When the private moon mission launches, the eyes of the world will truly be upon those people, and it will truly be an extraordinary event,” Eric Anderson of Space Adventures told International Business News.

Tapping that special place in our hearts, election year politics or a viable plan, fans of space travel liked what he had to say.

“I’m prepared to invest the prestige of the presidency in communicating and building a nationwide movement in favor of space,” Gingrich said at a meeting of aerospace executives and community leaders after the rally.

“If we do it right, it’ll be wild and it will be just the most fun you’ve ever seen,” he said.

Flickr photo by Gage Skidmore

Boeing enters the space tourism market

Aerospace giant Boeing announced on Wednesday that it is entering the space tourism market by selling extra seats on future flights to the International Space Station. The company has developed a “space taxi” that will shuttle astronauts to the ISS once NASA officially retires the Space Shuttle sometime next year, and is partnering with Space Adventures, a company that has a history in organizing space flights for wealthy private citizens.

Boeing is currently bidding for the NASA contract to ferry astronauts into orbit, and has designed a new spacecraft known as the CST-100 or Crew Space Transportation-100. That small ship is expected to have seven seats, with several remaining empty on most flights. Those seats would be sold off to help fund the program, with tickets being sold at a price tag that is expected to appeal to very wealthy, and adventurous, travelers. No specific price points have been announced yet, but officials say that the flights will be competitive with trips aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which Space Adventures also brokers deals for. The last such flight cost Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte a cool $35 million and included a 10-day stay aboard the ISS.

For now, Boeing’s entry into the space tourism field is just a plan that may not come to fruition until 2015. But investors are taking notice because this is the first time that such a large company, with a background in aerospace, has actually placed any kind of focus on opening the market for civilian travelers to go into orbit. Their entry into the field lends legitimacy to space tourism, which many had seen as a pipe dream until now.

[Photo credit: Boeing]

Space tourism already getting cheaper!

Space tourism may still be a few years from taking off (pun fully intended!) but competition is already bringing the price down dramatically. According to this story from MSNBC, a company known as Space Adventures has partnered with Armadillo Aerospace to make space tourism relatively affordable. In this case, “affordable” means $102,000, which is almost half the cost of rival Virgin Galactic’s proposed flights on SpaceShipTwo.

Unlike Virgin Galactic’s two-stage space plane design, Armadillo is developing a more traditional vertical launch system. Tourists will sit inside a capsule that will be propelled by a rocket 62 miles into the sky, taking them to the very edge of space. Once they reach that altitude, they’ll be treated to five minutes of weightlessness and a 360º view of the Earth below. The entire flight time will be less than an hour in length, but the price tag does include several days of training as well.

Space Adventures already has a track record for sending tourists into space. The company has partnered with the Russian Space Agency to send clients to the International Space Station, with several very rich travelers spending upwards of $35 million to take the journey. In those cases however, the space tourist actually spends several days living aboard the ISS.

Both Virgin Galactic and Armadillo are currently conducting tests on their flight systems, and while neither company knows when they’ll begin sending regular flights into space, most believe it won’t happen until 2012 or later. Who knows, by then there may be a third privately owned space tourism company that will be driving prices down even further.

So, what do you think? Would you pay $100,000 for a chance to go into orbit?

$30 Million Still Gets You to Space as a Tourist

Today marks the 50th year anniversary of the day the space satellite Sputnik was launched into orbit by the Soviet Union. That day the space race was on.

These days, if you have the money to do it, it’s not uncommon to travel to space on a private venture. That’s what Richard Garriot is going to do next year. He’ll be the 6th private citizen to have this ultimate get-a-away experience.

Garriot’s heading to the International Space Station (ISS) under a deal made between the Federal Space Agency of Russia, and Space Adventures, a private American space tourism company. In a nutshell, a Russian rocket will take Garriot to the space station, the American company arranged for this to happen and Garriot is picking up the tab. This is to be a working vacation, though. While at (ISS) he’s going to be doing experiments for private research companies.

If the name Garriot sounds familiar, think Owen Garriot. Owen Garriot, is a retired NASA astronaut who spent time aboard Skylab and Spacelab-1 is his dad. Next year’s trip will be the first time an American astronaut’s kid has headed to space. The Russian’s beat the Americans on this account. Sergei Volkov, the son of Alexander Volkov, a cosmonaut, is a cosmonaut will welcome Garriot to ISS. You can read more details about Garriot’s upcoming trip on

Space Tourism Details Start to Fill In

Not to steal too much thunder from Erik (who’s been blogging about this for some time), but it looks like the details of space tourism are getting clearer.

Virgin Galactic has already collected $200,000 from its first 100 customers, called “founders,” for their 150-minute flights on SpaceShipOne. More spots are still open for the next elite group of 400, called “pioneers” ($150,000 down payment). Booking is now also occurring for a third group, called “voyagers” ($20,000 down payment). They hope to put up 500 adventurous folks in the first year of operation: 2009.

Competitor Space Adventures is already off and running, haven taken the first three space tourists to the Space Station … for a $20 million “base price” apiece.

Finally, Benson Space Company will take you up on their Dream Chaser — once they complete it — for between $200,000 and $300,000, hopefully sometime in 2009. Get your $25,000 deposit ready.