January 12, 2011
We probably shouldn’t call them space tourists, even in a headline. The seven people who have visited the International Space Station as paying customers of the Virginia-based booking agency Space Adventures all worked very hard—before, during, and after their flights. None of them spent their time in orbit just looking out the window and turning somersaults.
But after Canadian entrepreneur Guy Laliberté’s September 2009 trip, it looked as though there might not be any more of these spaceflight participants for a while. With the U.S. space shuttle due to stop flying this year, the three-seat Russian Soyuz vehicle was booked solid by NASA and other government space agencies who still need to ferry astronauts to the station.
Now Energia, the Russian company that makes the Soyuz, has agreed to increase their production to five vehicles a year instead of four so that Space Adventures can sell three seats to commercial customers, beginning in 2013. The company says it has no lack of interest among wealthy would-be space passengers.
And that’s good news. Orbital tourists like Anousheh Ansari and Richard Garriott bring a vitality to human spaceflight that will be welcome as the shuttle retires and the number of people going into orbit drops dramatically.
October 11, 2010
Virgin Galactic’s suborbital spaceship, the VSS Enterprise, made its first piloted free flight and landing yesterday in Mojave, California. Pete Siebold was at the controls.
June 22, 2010
With time running short for the space shuttle, NASA has come up with a way for the masses to journey with astronauts on the vehicle’s two remaining voyages. Granted, it’s still impossible to actually hitch a ride to orbit, but you can upload and send a picture of yourself into space through NASA’s “Face in Space” initiative.
It’s pretty simple: Just follow this link, pick a mission (STS-133 or STS-134), upload your image/name, print your confirmation page, then wait. Once the shuttle returns from orbit, you can print out a flight certificate signed by the mission commander.
Before launch, check out the participation map to see the number and location of fellow “Face in Space” travelers. In the course of one hour, I watched the total number jump from 133,405 to 133,672 participants worldwide. The United States had the most (58,170), while some countries like Greenland (9) had numbers in the single digits. As the launch dates get nearer (September 16th for STS-133 and November for STS-134), the numbers are sure to increase.
The digital images will be electronically transferred from Mission Control to the shuttle after launch and uploaded to an onboard computer, where they will remain until the computer undergoes a standard memory cleanup. The pictures are not scheduled to be viewed by the astronauts during the flight, but at least they’ll be along for the ride.
January 12, 2010
Christian Frei’s film “Space Tourists” makes its North American premiere at the Sundance Film Festival next week. Frei, whose documentary about war photographer James Nachtwey was nominated for an Academy Award in 2002, followed Anousheh Ansari’s visit to the space station in 2006 (she shot much of her own footage).
Judging from the trailer and the film’s website, this looks to be not your typical fare about space tourism. Ansari is among the most engaging personalities to travel into orbit in recent years, and Frei has gone beyond the usual story line to show us, for example, local Kazakhs hunting for scrap metal from fallen rockets.
We hope to post a full review when the film goes into general release.
December 7, 2009
More than five years ago Burt Rutan made history with SpaceShipOne, the first civilian- built vehicle to reach space. That rocketplane hangs in the Milestones of Flight gallery in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., alongside Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, Yeager’s X-1 rocketplane Glamorous Glennis, and Armstrong’s Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia.
Now for the main event: SpaceShipTwo will be unveiled tonight in Mojave, California, where Rutan and his company Scaled Composites have been working in secrecy for several years. SpaceShipTwo will not soon come to the Milestones of Flight gallery because, if Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson has his way, the rocketplane will remain in service like an airliner, lofting paying passengers on suborbital flights for several minutes of weightlessness. The science community is interested too, for the research value of suborbital flight, and is training interested scientists.
Here’s a neat animation of how the experience may turn out:
Flown by two pilots, each craft will have the cabin area of a Gulfstream V business jet, and will carry six paying passengers at a top speed of 2,500 miles an hour, faster than an SR-71 Blackbird. They’ll fly much higher than the Blackbird’s 15-to-16-mile altitude—SpaceShipTwo will reach between 84 and 87 miles. The passenger seats will recline during reentry to allow passengers to tolerate the G forces more comfortably.
There will eventually be five SpaceShipTwo rocketplanes built under a joint venture of Scaled Composites and Branson’s Virgin Group called The Spaceship Company, which also will build two carrier airplanes named WhiteKnightTwo. Virgin Galactic, the launch customer, will have exclusive use of the craft during the first year and a half of commercial operations.
The first captive-carry flights are expected to take place within the next month or two, but the first suborbital test flight may not happen until 2011. Early commercial flights will run about $200,000 a ticket.
For all the Trekkies out there who applied enough pressure back in the 1970s to get the first NASA space shuttle orbiter named Enterprise, well, congrats, you’ve done it again. The first SpaceShipTwo will be named Enterprise, for the very same starship.
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