Recently announced plans by Space Adventures to offer tourist excursions around the Moon aboard modified Russian Soyuz capsules, however unlikely and audacious as they might seem, are not out of this world – at least in the figurative sense.
After all, the Vienna, Va.-based company has an established track record, having arranged trips for several multimillionaire thrill seekers to the international space station aboard Soyuz capsules.
Admittedly, finding private citizens willing and able to shell out $100 million for a relatively short lunar joy ride
aboard a vehicle that has never made such a trip is a much taller order. But the space tourism industry did not get to where it is today by thinking small or allowing itself to be swayed by conventional wisdom.
It took some chutzpah for Space Adventures to arrange, via the Russian space agency, trips for its clients to the space station over the objections of some of the orbital outpost’s main government sponsors. Now such visits have become almost routine.
Space Adventures is just one of many companies seeking to open up tourism’s final frontier – if not to the masses, at least to the well heeled. Recent notable achievements on the trailblazing front include the successful launch June 28 of Genesis 2, Bigelow Aerospace’s second prototype space habitation module. Genesis 2 is a close copy of Genesis 1, which launched successfully one year ago and continues to operate, but the newer inflatable module also carries personal items for paying customers as part of the company’s “Fly Your Stuff” offering.
Bigelow Aerospace founder and President Robert Bigelow, who made his fortune in the Las Vegas motel business, is still a long way from realizing his dream of operating the world’s first private space station for astronauts from countries without the wherewithal to pay for their own space infrastructure.
But with two successful space deployments under his belt in the past year, Mr. Bigelow has demonstrated that he’s not just blowing smoke.
Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic is reporting continued strong interest in rides to the edge of space aboard its planned SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle. Founded
by airline and music recording entrepreneur Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic
says it has doubled passenger bookings aboard SpaceShipTwo in the last year, with customers plunking down $20,000 deposits to reserve seats costing $200,000.
Even some of the traditional, government-focused prime contractors are getting into the act. EADS Astrium, the space division of European aerospace conglomerate EADS, recently unveiled a design for a suborbital space tourism vehicle and is seeking financial investors in the project.
Lockheed Martin, meanwhile, has been working with Bigelow Aerospace on concepts for getting people to and from Bigelow’s planned orbital outposts
As always, it remains to be seen whether these or any other nascent space tourism projects will come to fruition. But this industry has earned its wings in the last decade, and each new development makes it harder to dismiss its proposed offerings as flights of fancy.