Space tourism celebrates tenth anniversary

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]


Video of the week (3.26.10)

The Video of the Week for this week shows the first flight of White Night Two while carrying the Virgin Galactic “Enterprise” spacecraft. The flight took place just three days ago and is the latest step toward operating commercial passenger space flights in 2011.

Gadling was there when they unveiled SpaceShipTwo under very stormy skies. But they couldn’t have had a more beautiful day to accomplish this test flight. I can’t imagine what it’s like to sit in the far right side of the giant aircraft. Landing just a few feet from the right side of the runway must take some getting used to. According to a comment on the video, the left side may be used to take observers of the launch in the future. This could be nearly as exciting as going on a launch itself.

As for the experience of travelling weightless over California for a few minutes, would you join the over 330 people who have put down deposits on the $200,000 flights? Virgin Galactic claims another 80,000 people are on the waiting list.

So, if money were no object, would you take a ride?


Journey to the dark side of the moon

On this day fifty years ago, humanity got to see something it had never seen before.

On October 7, 1959, the Soviet space probe Luna 3 orbited the moon and took photos of the “dark side”.

Of course, everyone already knew that the dark side isn’t really dark. It gets just as much light as the side we see, but since it always faces away from Earth we’ve spent the last hundred thousand years wondering what’s over there. Luna 3 gave us the answer.

Some of Luna 3’s ghostly images and those from later Soviet probes can be seen here.

If you go to Moscow, you can learn the story of the Soviet space program at the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, located in the base of the Monument to the Conquerors of Space, pictured here in this striking photo taken by AlphaTangoBravo and put in our Flickr photo pool. The museum has one of the most impressive buildings of any museum anywhere, being incorporated into the base of a 107 meter (350 ft.) depiction of a rocket and its contrail. A poem on the side of the monument declares, “And the reward for our efforts was that, having triumphed over oppression and darkness, we have forged wings of fire for our land and our century!”

Besides a bit of Soviet-style hypocrisy about “oppression and darkness” this poem is spot on. The Soviet Space program achieved a whole series of firsts–first satellite (1957), first animal in space (1957), first probes to Mars (1960) and Venus (1961), first man in space (1961), first woman in space (1963). . .the list goes on and on.

The museum has undergone three years of renovations and reopened on April 12 of this year, which happens to be Cosmonautics Day, celebrating Yuri Gagarin’s historic 1961 flight, the first time a human being ever left Earth. The Soviets put up a very cool statue to him in Moscow’s Gagarin Square, but sadly there’s no photo of it in the Gadling Flickr pool. The first person who puts one up there and tells me by leaving a comment will get a Soviet-era space program postcard as a thank you. You’ll also see the photo on Gadling, so upload your best!

If you want a sneak peek inside the renovated museum, this article (in Spanish) has an interesting slide show.


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.