Space Tourism

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Anonymous

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How about we send them all there?

http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/entertainment/showbiz/newsid_2014000/2014153.stm


Pop star Lance Bass has come one step closer to becoming the next space tourist after being told that he had passed a health and fitness test.
Bass, of the boy band 'N Sync, has been given informal word that he is physically fit enough to take a seat on a Russian rocket flight to the International Space Station.

The news comes just two weeks after he had a minor heart operation to rectify an irregular heartbeat.


Mark Shuttleworth became the second space tourist in April

He is now expected to start flight training at the cosmonaut centre in Russia's Star City on Monday, 3 June, which would last for five or six months.

"He's in top physical condition, top mental condition," according to David Krieff, a Hollywood producer who is arranging financial backing.

Bass's adventure will be followed on a series of US television specials.

Mr Krieff said Bass would be officially certified fit at "some sort of ceremony" on Wednesday after completing a series of physical and medical tests following the end of 'N Sync's latest tour.

If he comes through the flight training, he will be a contender for a seat on a re-supply mission that would last seven or eight days.

Ambition

Bass, 23, would become the youngest person ever to go into space, Mr Krieff said.

He has held the ambition since childhood, when he went to a space camp.

If successful, he could follow in the footsteps of Dennis Tito and Mark Shuttleworth, the world's first space tourists, who reportedly paid $20m (£14m) each for their trips to the international space station.

Mr Krieff said his company, Destiny Productions, was arranging corporate sponsorship as well as the TV deal.
 

punychicken

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just came from the bbc site, saw the title of this thread and just KNEW! Sending them all would probably mean a huge tv special on 'stars' in space. Though it would make BB4 interesting if it was staged in orbit!
 
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Anonymous

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So who do we have to put pressure on to keep him away from ISS? I certainly don't want guys like him to have such an honor.
 
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Anonymous

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wot a waste of money. Have ye no greater priorities for funds? Like research to cure alzherimer's, cancer, and especially ...in reference to this instance...mental retardation?
 

SoundDust

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what about a TV programme called Astronautstars where the people who go up have to impress a panel of judges (including Simon Cowell). Or Big Brother in space, where the contestant voted out is ejected into space?
:)
 
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Anonymous

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Could this be a test run for the main event where:

a) We announce that the world is going to be swallowed up by a mutant star goat, but
b) We have prepared 3 space-ships, or arks, to save everyone, and that,
c) All of the boy bands, telephone santisers, etc, are going on the B ark. ;)
 
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Anonymous

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Well, despite the contempt I have for N'Stynk and their successors and predecessors, there could be a useful precedent being set here. If the richest echelons of society keep stumping up the cash to go into space, a market develops. Market forces drive commercial methods of space travel.....and maybe we're on the way to wearing tin foil and going on holiday to the moon like we were promised way back when.
 

intaglio

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And of course someone could propose to Dubya and David Blunket that transportation into an O'Neill habitat is the ideal way to make escape proof jails.
 

Pete Younger

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Dark Detective said:
and maybe we're on the way to wearing tin foil and going on holiday to the moon like we were promised way back when.

So who wants holiday on the moon? I've heard that it's one enormous beach and there's nothing to eat but cheese.
 

rynner2

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Space Tourism - 'viable at $15,000 a seat'
To gauge the potential market, Penn and his colleague Charles Lindley used a 1995 survey that asked people how much they would be willing to pay for a ticket into space. From this they estimated that a price tag of around ,000 a ticket would pull in about a million passengers a year. They then worked out how to bring the price per flight down to this level.

.......

In a forthcoming paper in the journal Acta Astronautica, Penn and Lindley say the reusable system will allow the number of flights to be stepped up dramatically to around 9500 a year, compared with the current 10 or so shuttle launches.

The fleet and infrastructure would take about seven years to develop, and could start to turn in a profit after only six years of flights (see chart).
 

mejane

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New Scientist seems to be having an off-day as it won't let me in :( (Connection Refused - pah, knew I should have renewed the subscription... mutter, mutter )

The article probably explains this, but will these flights actually go anywhere (the moon, say), or will they just be orbital flights to let the punters experience zero-G and gasp at the wonder that is the Earth?

I seem to think that Buzz Aldrin proposed a similar idea some years ago... you start with short cheap(ish) sub-orbital flights then build from there. I think he also mentioned the idea of using a lottery system so that the lucky winners could actually go into space (I may be confusing fact & fiction here - will need to google).

Anyway, I'll go! Erm, anyone like to lend me a tenner to get me started?

Jane.

Edit: I wasn't imagining things! Buzz and Space
 
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The article on the BBC news pages said something about a space station. Except there's only the ISS now, and who the bloody hell wants to go there on holiday? The flights might work out at $15K a ticket, but after you add on the price of the space hotel they'd have to build for the holidaymakers to go to (in that scenario), the price tag would be back up in the millions again. The only way for it to work so cheaply is if it is only for brief microgravity excursions. Bummer. :(
 

rynner2

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Ah, sorry! I got the link through a NS newsletter, and they did mention they'd had a server failure. But as I accessed the page OK, I thought it was fixed - but now I can't get it either!

The gist of it was, tourists would be taken to an orbital 'space hotel', stay awhile, and return on a later shuttle. (Not the present shuttle, but a much more reliable type, probably using kerosene as fuel instead of lquid hydrogen.)

I'd go! A gammy knee wouldn't be such a handicap in free fall!
 

mejane

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The NS site is back up now :)

Here is an interesting article on the use of kerosene as a possilbe rocket fuel.

The scheme does seem to rely on the availability of one or more space stations geared-up for rich tourists (decent food, toilets, etc). I wonder if they'll accept scruffy back-packers? I hope so :D

Jane.
 

oll_lewis

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Holiday insureance is likly to be quite costly though.
 
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Anyone read the full article with (crude) costing graph in the NS hardcopy? The cost of a space station destination for all these space tourists hasn't been factored in at all. If I'm deciphering the graph arightly, they're proposing that the new ships and infrastructure (read 'someplace for the ships to go', ie. a space hotel) could be cobbled together for less than $20 Billion. If they believe that, then I've got some swampland real estate they might be interested in too... (Who the hell costed this thing for them??)

And how much has the ISS cost so far, with it's conditions primitive and possibly even cramped for the 3 guys up there at any one time?

I want this to happen, don't get me wrong. I just think the proposals these guys have made are all a bit airy-fairy/pie-in-the-sky.
 

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The Five-Billion-Star Hotel

The Five-Billion-Star Hotel

Michael Belfiore

On the Las Vegas Strip, home of the biggest and most extravagant hotels in the world, shell-shocked tourists file past one stunningly ostentatious display after another. In the desert city, water says wealth like nothing else, and there’s a lake of it in front of the Bellagio, with fountains blasting 240 feet in the air in time to Broadway show tunes. Just up the street, the Mirage demonstrates that it has money to burn with a fiery volcano erupting from the top of a 119,000-gallon waterfall.

Tucked away on the service roads behind the Strip, the humble Budget Suites of America hotels are, in contrast, nearly invisible to tourists. Catering not to revelers but to the hordes of migrants looking for quick work in America’s tourism epicenter, Budget Suites eschews flashy displays of any sort, flaunting instead affordable weekly rates and the homely comforts of laundry rooms and kitchenettes.

Still, when it comes to grand ambition, the impresarios of the Strip are mere pikers next to Budget Suites owner Robert Bigelow. For his next hotel enterprise, Bigelow is looking beyond the bright lights of Las Vegas—beyond Earth’s atmosphere, in fact. He is actively engaged in an effort to build the planet’s first orbiting space hotel. Bargain-basement room rate: $1 million a night. For its water show, this hotel will have all of Earth’s blue oceans flying past its windows at 17,500 miles an hour. Guests on board the 330-cubic-meter station (about the size of a three-bedroom house) will learn weightless acrobatics, marvel at the ever-changing face of the home planet, and, for half of every 90-minute orbit, gaze deep into a galaxy ablaze with stars.

The public has seen this vision for decades—another hopeless dreamer’s space fantasy. But here there’s a difference: Bigelow is betting $500 million of his personal fortune that he can make it come true. He has hired veteran space-travel engineers to perfect the technology, he has produced nearly launch-ready hardware for testing, and he’s floating a $50-million prize to entice other companies to create a safe, reliable orbital space vehicle to transport guests to the front door—or rather, the airlock. Even five years ago, this plot would have seemed utterly implausible. But with Burt Rutan’s recent Ansari X Prize triumph—his company, Scaled Composites, won a $10-million competition for the successful, repeated launch of a manned suborbital space vehicle—and the subsequent creation of Virgin Galactic to capitalize on Rutan’s technology for tourist spaceflights, Bigelow’s project provides an intriguing new twist in the development of a commercial spaceflight industry.

Robert Bigelow is a trim 60 years old with a full head of salt-and-pepper hair and a matching mustache. He shepherds visitors through his 50-acre, three-building, 56-employee R&D facility, Bigelow Aerospace, on the outskirts of Las Vegas with the quiet confidence of a man who knows exactly what he is doing. “It’s a gamble,” he says of his project, the world’s first private space station. “It’s a huge gamble.” He smiles faintly as he says it, as though he enjoys the sheer outrageousness of his own project. Then, too, he’s no stranger to high-stakes gambling; he was raised in Las Vegas, after all, surrounded by the city’s kitschy, instant-gratification, money-fixated culture.

Yet he’s also insatiably curious about spirituality and the nature of the universe, and he possesses an unearthly patience. Las Vegas may be an unlikely incubator for these qualities, but that’s exactly what it was for Bigelow as he grew up. In the 1950s, nuclear explosions at the nearby Nevada Test Site lit his street at night with artificial daylight—casting light on his mortality, as well. In later years, rumors circulated of a secret government program to study a crashed extraterrestrial spaceship and its occupants. And although he never saw anything himself, Bigelow knew people who swore that they had had unexplainable encounters with possible extraterrestrials; his own grandparents even had a UFO experience. He couldn’t guess what it all meant, but he developed a burning desire to find out. What was our place in the universe? Were we alone in it?

Bigelow was just 15 years old when he vowed to devote his life to helping establish a permanent human presence in space. It would take money, he knew—lots of it. And so he began to build a very practical foundation for his fantastic idea: He followed his father into real estate, studying that and banking at Arizona State University. After graduating in 1967, he launched his career first as a broker, and soon began buying small rental properties. His first construction project, in 1970, was a 40-unit apartment house. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s he built dozens of apartment buildings and motels in and around Las Vegas, and in 1988 he founded Budget Suites of America.

At about the same time, he began pouring millions of dollars into UFO and paranormal research, eventually creating his National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS) in 1995. None of this activity was a secret, but he did keep mum about his ultimate goal, the driving motivation behind his expanding empire—telling no one until the time came to set the plan in motion. “I didn’t even tell my wife,” he says. “She never knew. Because it’s possible that that kind of dream would never happen.” The ideal moment arrived in 1999 when Bigelow, now sitting on a fortune, got wind of a NASA program for a radical new space station.

Like the hotels on the Strip, Bigelow Aerospace is wrapped in layers of illusion. Viewed from West Brooks Avenue in North Las Vegas, it resembles most other industrial complexes in the neighborhood, down to the beer distributor right across the street. Such similarity ends, however, as you drive past a reassuringly corporate Bigelow logo and through the gate. Overlooking the Strip 10 miles away, the small parking lot is bounded by chain-link fencing wrapped with razor wire. As the beefy guards wearing desert fatigues and .45s check your ID, maybe you’ll notice their black shoulder patches, which feature a classically oval-eyed alien face outlined in silver and gold.

Bigelow—who generally shuns media attention and rarely grants interviews—kept his spacefaring efforts largely under wraps for five years after founding Bigelow Aerospace. But he began showing his work last fall, after announcing his $50-million orbital-vehicle prize amid the positive press surrounding Rutan’s SpaceShipOne. The top-secret, Skunk Works–style aura persists, and visitors are only slowly being admitted to Building B, the semipublic face of Bigelow Aerospace. Built last year, the windowless, 80,000-square-foot facility houses full-scale mock-ups of Bigelow’s baby: the Nautilus space-station module. Two 45-foot-long, 22-foot-diameter modules, brilliant white and draped with the American flag, loom out of the darkness at the back of the building. A stairway invites visitors to climb on board to see for themselves what it might be like to live in the biggest space-station modules ever built. Their large volume is the result of an unusual design feature—they are inflatable.

Developed at NASA as part of a project called TransHab, inflatable space-station modules have some important advantages over their tin-can counterparts. They weigh significantly less, and they launch in a compressed state, with their fabric hulls wrapped tightly around their rigid cores like a roll of paper towels. This allows them to use less-powerful launch vehicles and makes for roomier space stations. After a rocket fires a Nautilus into space, explosive bolts will release the girdle securing the compressed hull, and then the station’s life support system, housed in the core, will inflate the structure with breathable air, expanding it from 15 feet in diameter to 22 feet. Power comes from solar panels that unfold from the rigid bulkheads at each end of the module. Each bulkhead also houses an airlock and a docking adaptor. Astronauts arriving later enter a shirtsleeve environment in which they can go to work unpacking removable panels, equipment and supplies from the core to create three levels of living and working space. A docked rocket engine called a multi-directional propulsion bus (MDPB) will eventually allow the station—the first one is tentatively called CSS [Commercial Space Station] Skywalker—to maneuver within Earth’s orbit or even leave it, for, say, a trip to the moon.

This basic architecture was created by NASA senior engineer William Schneider, in an effort that began in 1997. The design won numerous converts at NASA, with then- administrator Daniel Goldin calling it a major breakthrough. For a while, it was seriously considered as an alternative to the International Space Station (ISS) Habitation Module under development at the time by Boeing. But TransHab was cancelled without explanation in 2000, before it could produce flight-ready hardware. Its demise is an example of what Bigelow sees as NASA’s monumental inefficiency. Here was a perfectly good program to develop a technology that was less expensive and tougher than conventional designs, but, as far as Bigelow could tell, it got axed for purely political reasons.

Bigelow thinks he can do better with a traditional business model. “I’ve put together many, many projects involving a lot of money and a lot of people,” he says, and unlike NASA, “I’m used to doing things pretty darn well on budget and pretty darn well on time.” Although he’s circumspect about just how he will spend his $500-million commitment, it is clear that he budgets carefully. His expenditures so far run only into the tens of millions, mostly for building the Bigelow Aerospace physical plant, for patents obtained from NASA, and for building and testing prototypes of space station modules. His biggest outlays, for building and launching the actual modules into space, have yet to be made. But here again, he plans to spend carefully, hiring rides on relatively low-cost commercial SpaceX and Russian Dneper launch vehicles, and sourcing off-the-shelf components from reasonably priced vendors whenever possible. It’s this careful approach to spending, honed on countless construction projects, that Bigelow feels sets him apart from NASA, which relies on high-priced defense contractors.

After TransHab was cancelled, Bigelow bought the exclusive development rights from NASA and entered into a Space Act Agreement with the agency to allow him to work with former TransHab engineers still employed there. And he tracked down Schneider, by then retired from NASA and teaching at Texas A&M University. Schneider was surprised when he got the call, but he agreed to see for himself what Bigelow was up to. The modules Bigelow has on display, though empty except for floors and structural elements, had their intended effect on Schneider. “And god,” he recalls now, “when I walked in here, boom! It was mind-boggling, because this is the vision that I really wanted. Here’s these things, all sitting there, and of course some of them are mock-ups, but the rest were inflatable, and I said, ‘Man, he’s serious. He’s not playing around.’ ” These days Schneider and his former TransHab colleagues visit the plant every few weeks to provide guidance to Bigelow’s engineers. For Schneider, it’s a chance to follow through on some unfinished business. “It’s kind of like you want to see your child grow up to maturity,” he says, “not be stopped in its adolescence.”

The real work at Bigelow Aerospace goes on in Building A, with its expansive shop floor. Here machinists and technicians turn out aluminum parts on state-of-the art computer-driven milling machines and assemble them into test modules. On a recent day, a welding torch flared in the darkness of a full-scale mock-up being converted into a vacuum chamber for testing the inflation of modules under reduced atmospheric pressure.

Bigelow patrols the shop floor, wearing his customary colorful shirt and spotless white sneakers. Even to many of his longtime employees he is known as Mr. Bigelow, yet he’s often greeted with smiles and good-natured ribbing. He’s involved in every aspect of the operation, keeping a close eye on the work of the machinists and signing off on all of his engineers’ designs. He has to feel with his own hands the heft of each precision part, to hear the satisfying click of them fitting together.

His reluctance to deal in intangibles extends to other areas as well. He has never sent an e-mail. “E-mail,” he says, “is a very sloppy medium. It’s not pristine at all.” Instead he prefers phone calls or the physical contact of faxes and letters. Last summer, rather than endure abstract discussion in a meeting on whether to use the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for vibration tests, he abruptly took the entire meeting to the airport and put the flabbergasted team on his private jet. They flew to Pasadena to evaluate the facility firsthand, had lunch, and flew back to North Las Vegas to continue the meeting.

And then there was the case of the clevis fittings. During one design meeting, engineers Edwin Lardizabal and Jay Ingham and project manager Brian Aiken found themselves arguing with Schneider and a visiting NASA engineer about the size of the fittings holding the restraint-layer straps. The restraint layer is perhaps the most crucial part of the three layers of fabric that make up the Nautilus’s hull. The hull’s innermost layer, a plastic film called the air bladder, keeps the internal atmosphere from escaping into space, but it’s up to the restraint layer to ensure that the air bladder keeps its shape and doesn’t burst. It consists of a web of interwoven straps made of high-strength fiber. The straps attach to the bulkheads at either end of the module by means of clevis fittings and rollers.

Lardizabal, Schneider and the others couldn’t agree on whether to keep the 1/8-inch diameter rollers they had already decided on, or up the size to 3/16 for added safety. Finally Bigelow had had enough. As Franklin E. Gibbs, Bigelow’s patent attorney, recalled later: “We’ve got a room full of engineers, and everybody is worried about figuring it to the nth degree, and Robert just says, ‘Wait. Build it. Let’s see what it does.’ ” Bigelow called the manufacturing manager up from the shop floor and told him to get to work: “Build both of them. I want a dozen of these ready after lunch.” By the time the meeting reconvened, a dozen shiny rollers of each type awaited evaluation. The verdict? Go with the safer 3/16-inchers.

On this day, Bigelow checks up on Lardizabal and two of his assistants working in the assembly area of the shop floor, installing the straps in question. Lardizabal, a talkative Filipino who was laid off from Boeing after 9/11, grins at Bigelow’s approach: “It’s the boss!” Bigelow joins him beside an inflated quarter-scale module whose crisscrossing restraint-layer straps lie exposed like the musculature of a flayed horse. He watches intently as Lardizabal picks up a pair of loose straps dangling from their clevis fittings at one end of the module and lays them across the module’s side. This is how the outer layer of straps will go on now, he explains to Bigelow. A couple inches apart, instead of the previous, wider configuration.

It seems like a small detail, but the minutiae of how the straps of the restraint layer will fit together is critical. Especially since the straps must be woven through and around the aluminum frames of the windows. This presents a particular challenge on the third-scale test module that will be launched on a SpaceX rocket this November. On the third-scale module, there will be no room for the window, so the window installation procedure is one of the areas on which Lardizabal and his colleagues seek the advice of the former TransHab engineers.

The matter of how the MicroMeteoroid and Orbital Debris (MMOD) shield will fold for launch and then deploy in space is another. Composed of five layers of graphite-fiber composites separated by foam spacers, the MMOD is the outermost section of Nautilus’s hull. Schneider’s crew’s original TransHab design had more stopping power than did aluminum three inches thick. Ground-testing of Bigelow’s MMOD has shown that it can stop impacts by 5/8-inch-diameter aluminum pellets fired at it at 6.4 kilometers a second, several times as fast as a rifle bullet. No rigid spacecraft design can match this performance, and it’s one of the reasons Nautilus has an expected life span of at least 15 years. But getting the MMOD to fold properly for launch is a major engineering headache. “It’s challenging because it is such a robust and thick material,” Lardizabal says.

Lardizabal admits that he and his colleagues may not be able to overcome these and other formidable obstacles that will arise before Bigelow’s $500-million commitment runs out in 2015. He puts the project’s chances for success at 60 percent. “This will be the first time,” he explains. “That’s the problem. You can’t foresee everything. Just like when we rolled out the 747 the first time.” Schneider, though, has no doubt that Nautilus will be in orbit by 2010, as planned—in large part because Bigelow is in charge. He compares Bigelow with another wildly successful Las Vegas real-estate mogul who had aerospace interests: “Bob is like Howard Hughes reincarnated. He’s not just a financial person; he’s in the middle of everything that we do.”



It could be argued that Bigelow’s space station is on the way to becoming his own [Spruce Goose], the monumentally ambitious Hughes aircraft that could barely get airborne. But whereas the freewheeling Hughes inherited a fortune with which to make a bigger fortune, Bigelow is a self-made man, and therein lies a key difference. Beginning with his first apartment house, Bigelow has developed a clear-headed and methodical approach to all his projects: Hire the best engineers and tradespeople, source the best materials, and stay on time and on budget. “They’re taking a very down-to-earth approach to what they’re doing in terms of building and testing,” Taber MacCallum says of Bigelow Aerospace. Starting in 1991, MacCallum lived for two years with seven other people in a sealed, self- contained environment as part of the Biosphere 2 research project. He now heads Paragon Space Development, a NASA contractor. “They’re very much along the same philosophical lines as Burt Rutan and his SpaceShipOne,” he says, “and we all know how successful that’s been.” Bigelow’s approach, he adds, is aggressive, but “he’s very safety- conscious, much like Rutan.”

Another convert to the Bigelow cause, John M. Logsdon, cites the company’s close relationship with NASA as a winning factor. “I have little doubt that the basic technology is likely to work,” says Logsdon, who directs George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute. “The issue is whether there’s a transportation system that can get people or things, or both, up there.”

Before [Columbia] was lost in 2003 and the remaining space shuttles grounded, Bigelow was in talks with the Russians to supply his stations with three-person Soyuz capsules. After the [Columbia] accident, though, Bigelow found himself in competition with NASA for rides on the Soyuz—a distinctly untenable position.

The success of the X Prize pointed the way toward a potential solution: Bigelow decided to launch his own competition. America’s Space Prize will award $50 million for the first privately funded spacecraft that can send five people into orbit and dock with a Bigelow Aerospace habitat. The deadline is January 10, 2010, the date Bigelow wants his hotel to open.

The prospects for orbital tourism look good. Already two tourists have paid $20 million each for weeklong vacations on the ISS. At $7.9 million, Bigelow’s tickets will be a relative bargain. At that price, says Eric Anderson, whose company, Space Adventures, brokered the $20-million flights, Bigelow could see 20 to 30 customers a year. But Bigelow says he’ll offer his station to any commercial enterprise that’s interested. He hopes to find a market among drug companies and other manufacturers who want to take advantage of the increased efficiencies afforded by microgravity, as well as researchers and Hollywood producers eager to shoot movies, TV shows and commercials in space.

Still, Bigelow says he stands a better-than-even chance of losing a big chunk of his fortune on this $500-million gamble. “But you know,” he says, “the faint of heart never won a fair maiden, never won wars.” Besides, “I think what we’re doing has some national value, win or lose.” That notion is a powerful motivation for Bigelow, says Gibbs, his patent attorney: “He feels like the United States should be taking the lead in this and that we really need to get more private industry involved if we’re going to jump forward with any real spectacular moves.”

“Where’s the inspiration in America?” Bigelow asks. “If you asked 50 people or 500 people, ‘What is America’s inspiration today?’ what would they say? To win the war in Iraq? That doesn’t create a dream in some kid’s mind. An inspiration has to be something you carry with you 24/7.”

http://www.popsci.com/popsci/aviation/a ... 51,00.html
 
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Anonymous

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At present, the only successful private spacecraft is Rutan's Spaceship One. While an impressive technical achievement, it is strictly sub-orbital and can carry only two people, including the pilot.

Richard Branson's plans for space tourism, which are more modest than Bigelow's, call for a larger but still sub-orbital vehicle. This would lift passengers above the appreciable atmosphere and let them experience weightlessness for a few minutes. It is arguable this would be not so much 'space tourism' as 'high altitude tourism'.

Bigelow's project will stand or fall by the availability of the five-seat orbital craft he is offering a prize for. This will have to fly a lot faster than SpaceShip One, which I understand reaches just over mach 3: minimal orbital velocity is 5 miles a second or mach 25. It will also need much better heat shielding to withstand re-entry at that speed.

I think he will be lucky if anyone can develop a fully operational, reliable design in just 5 years.
 

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Wealthy Chinese may soon embark on private space flights

Wealthy Chinese may soon embark on private space flights

BEIJING (AFP) Feb 28, 2005
Wealthy Chinese citizens may soon embark on private space flights, with the first group of adventurous millionaires starting astronaut training as early as May, state media reported Monday.
The possibility of following in the footsteps of Yang Liwei, who became China's first man in space in 2003, has opened up with the entry of US tour operator Space Adventures into the Chinese market, the Beijing News said.

Hoping to attract customers among the increasingly affluent Chinese, Space Adventures signed a cooperation agreement with Hong Kong Space Tour Corporation on Sunday in the south Chinese city of Shenzhen, according to the paper.

As of now, just one unnamed Chinese has signed up for one of Space Adventures' tour packages, but the two companies expect more to follow soon, the paper said.

The plan is for a group of more than 20 Chinese to leave for spaceflight training in the United States as early as May this year, at a price of hundreds of thousands of yuan (tens of thousands of dollars), according to the report.

The training "combines medical screenings with accurate and realistic simulations," according to the company's website.

It was unclear from the report if the Chinese tour group would go on to participate in the real spaceflight experiences offered by the company, in which case the price tag would increase greatly.

The paper said the price for a suborbital flight would most likely exceed 100,000 dollars.

Millionaire US businessman Dennis Tito paid a reported 20 million dollars to become the world's first space tourist in 2001.

China plans to launch its second manned spaceflight. Shenzhou-6, later this year.

http://www.spacedaily.com/2005/05022806 ... ckl0s.html
 

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Japan moots manned Moon base

Japan moots manned Moon base
By Lester Haines
Published Monday 28th February 2005 12:39 GMT
Japan's space agency has announced the possibility of developing a shuttle-style space vehicle by 2025 and eventually constructing a manned Moon base - hot on the heels of last Saturday's successful launch of a H-2A rocket carrying a navigation and meteorological satellite.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is once again talking big after the H-2A mission went some way to restoring faith in the country's space programme. A November 2003 H-2A launch ended in humiliating failure when the rocket had to be destroyed shortly after launch. This fuelled criticism of Japan's space ambitions originally ignited by two failures of the H-2A's predecessor - the H-2 - during the 1990s, Reuters reports.

An editorial in today's Asahi Shimbun notes: "Desperate though it is to be a player in the space race, Japan still has a lot of catching up to do." This analysis chimes in with space pundits who doubt Japan will ever become a major player in commercial satellite launches.

Despite this, and the high cost of launches (Saturday's mission swallowed around 9.4bn yen or $89m), Japan is keen to press on with its programme. Short-term projects include using satellites to send alerts on natural disasters - such as tsunamis - straight to mobile phones. It recently signed up to a global satellite disaster network, aimed at "aimed at improving satellite photo responses to major disasters". ®

Source: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/02/28 ... ace_plans/
 

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World's Third Space Tourist Ready For Journey

World's Third Space Tourist Ready For Journey

Gregory Olsen
Moscow, Russia (XNA) Sep 12, 2005

The world's third space tourist Gregory Olsen has been given the go ahead for his Oct 1 flight to the International Space Station aboard a Russian vehicle, a space official said.
"Gregory has fully mastered the flight training programme developed for him and is ready for flight to the ISS," Valery Korzun, deputy head of the Cosmonauts' Training Center, told the Itar-Tass news agency on Friday.

Olsen, who has paid millions of dollars for the trip, will ride aloft aboard a Russian Soyuz spaceship for a brief stay on the orbiting space lab with the station's 12th crew - Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev and NASA astronaut William MacArthur.

"Olsen's command of Russian leaves much to be desired," Korzun said, adding MacArthur and Tokarev, both of whom speak English, will help Olsen communicate with the Mission Control if necessary.

Last year, MacArthur and Olsen suspended training for their flight due to health problems, but medical experts have given the green light for flying after both men underwent medical treatment, Korzun said.

MacArthur and Tokarev are "well prepared for the flight," Korzun said.

MacArthur, who is to serve as commander on the 12th crew, has had three shuttle flights and Tokarev, who is assigned as flight engineer, flew on shuttle Discovery in 1999 to the ISS, according to NASA's web site.

Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev and US astronaut John Phillips have been working on the station since mid-April and are due to be replaced by MacArthur and Tokarev after a six-month mission.

Before Olsen, American Dennis Tito and South African Mark Shuttleworth had spent a few days on the ISS in 2001 and 2002 respectively after paying $20 million apiece for the tour.

Source: Xinhua News Agency

http://www.spacedaily.com/news/tourism-05ze.html
 

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Space passenger Olsen to pull his own weight

By Alan Boyle
Science editor
MSNBC
Updated: 12:53 p.m. ET Sept. 13, 2005

STAR CITY, Russia - Space passenger Greg Olsen may be paying $20 million for a ride to the international space station next month, but that doesn’t mean he’ll get out of doing the chores in orbit.

Olsen will be expected to help out with cleaning up the place or preparing meals, just like any crew member, said NASA astronaut Bill McArthur, who will be accompanying Olsen on a Russian Soyuz craft to take command of the space station.

“Greg really is a full member of the crew,” McArthur told MSNBC.com during a Tuesday news conference at the Russian cosmonaut training center here. “We look at who is busy with tasks, and who has free time that’s convenient. And if I fall in that situation, then I’m the one to make lunch.”

Tuesday’s session with Olsen, McArthur and Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev was the latest press event in a sort of farewell tour for the departing Soyuz crew. The three men are due to go into quarantine on Sunday, in preparation for the Oct. 1 launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

McArthur and Tokarev are due to relieve the station’s current long-term occupants, Russia’s Sergei Krikalev and NASA’s John Phillips, and begin a six-month tour of duty on the station. Olsen, however, will come back down to Earth with Krikalev and Phillips after a week on the orbital outpost.

Olsen, a 60-year-old New Jersey inventor/entrepreneur, is following in the footsteps of California millionaire Dennis Tito and South African millionaire Mark Shuttleworth — paying the Russians an eight-figure sum for months of cosmonaut training and the round trip to the space station. The Russians make such private-passenger seats available to raise money for their space program.

"I can guarantee that every cent from Gregory Olsen goes back into the federal space program," said Alexei Krasnov, director of manned spaceflight programs for Russia's Federal Space Agency.

More than a 'space tourist'?
Olsen made his fortune in fiber-optics communications and infrared imaging. He is the founder and current chairman of the board at New Jersey-based Sensors Unlimited, which is due to be purchased for $60 million by Goodrich Corp. by the end of the year.

Olsen dislikes the term “space tourist” and prefers to be called a private space researcher. He told reporters that his scientific background, which includes a Ph.D. in materials science, was one of the motivating factors for his trip.

“I'm a scientist in physics and electrical engineering, so space obviously is a very big interest,” he said.

In fact, one of Olsen’s infrared imagers was used during this summer’s Discovery mission to inspect the shuttle’s protective skin for damage.

In contrast with the years of training that professional astronauts go through, Olsen has trained for only six months at Star City. When asked why he was taking such a big risk on spaceflight with such limited training, Olsen replied, “I don’t view it as a risk at all. It’s a very exciting experience. I’ve got one of the best crews there ever were. … It’s been a privilege for me to train with them.”

His crewmates returned the compliment.

“He’s never been a pilot, but the fact that he’s an engineer brings a lot to our team,” Tokarev said.

“He has proven to be a tremendous asset in our training,” McArthur said. “He isn’t trained differently. He certainly has less extensive training than Valery and I have. But at the same time, in our simulations … we’ve found that having a third set of hands to perform various tasks truly makes us significantly more effective. We’re really looking forward to having Greg in space with us.”

Medical problem caused delays
Olsen actually began training more than a year ago, but Russian doctors disqualified him shortly after he started because "something turned up in a test," he told MSNBC.com. Although Olsen has not publicized the precise nature of the medical condition, he said it faded away by itself, only three months after he went back home. Follow-up tests persuaded the Russian medical team to let him resume training in May, after a gap of nearly a year.

He said about 35 friends and family members, including his 4 1/2-year-old grandson, are due to attend the launch at Baikonur. It will take almost two days for the Soyuz to reach the space station, orbiting 225 miles (350 kilometers) above the earth.

Once he gets there, Olsen doesn’t intend to just sit around and just look out the window —although that is part of the appeal of the voyage. He’s already set up to participate in three biological experiments for the European Space Agency, focusing on bacteria growth, lower back pain and how spaceflight upsets the vestibular system of the inner ear. He'll also be using video and still cameras to record the sights, and participate in ham-radio and video downlinks.

What’s more, he still hopes to bring up a spectrometer built by students at the University of Virginia, with components from his own company. The spectrometer hasn’t yet been cleared for takeoff, due to U.S. export restrictions. If officials can cut through the red tape by launch time, Olsen would use the instrument to analyze moisture levels in vegetation on Earth as well as the chemical content of clouds.

“If I’m lucky, I’ll have a lot to do,” Olsen told reporters.

Does astronaut have a return ticket?
McArthur and NASA, meanwhile, have their own red tape to deal with: Russia’s agreement to provide free rides to U.S. astronauts is due to lapse after next month’s launch, but currently, the Iran Nonproliferation Act would bar NASA from paying the Russians for future flights on Soyuz craft.

To get around the problem, NASA plans to bring McArthur back to Earth on a space shuttle next spring, but if future flights are delayed due to Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath or other problems, he could find himself without a shuttle ride.

Negotiations over the issue are continuing, and there have been some hints that provisions of the act may be waived to let NASA purchase seats on future Soyuz craft.

Russian officials were repeatedly asked whether there was a chance that McArthur could be marooned aboard the station when his six-month stint was over, but Nikolai Sevastianov, head of the Energia rocket company that makes the Soyuz spaceships, brushed off such concerns.

“Of course he’ll come back on the Soyuz if the shuttle is not ready,” he said.

© 2005 MSNBC Interactive

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9323509/
 

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Space tourist will experiment on himself

Space tourist will experiment on himself
15:00 29 September 2005
NewScientist.com news service
Kelly Young

Enlarge image
Olsen completed an extensive training program, including zero gravity simulation flights (Image: www.spaceadventures.com)
Enlarge image
Olsen will be investigating the microbes that have colonised the ISS and perhaps astronauts themselves (Image: www.spaceadventures.com)US entrepreneur Gregory Olsen is about to become the third tourist to visit the International Space Station.

But the trained materials scientist will not simply be snapping pictures and floating in microgravity during his week-long station visit, for which he paid an estimated $20 million. He has also agreed to conduct experiments on himself.

"I do not consider myself a space tourist," says Olsen, who made his fortune making sensors and photonics equipment. "Learning how to live and work in space and my upcoming mission are truly a dream come true for me. But I am first and foremost a scientist, and I am going to carry out real science aboard the ISS."

In an arrangement with the European Space Agency, he will carry out three experiments to study how the human body behaves in space. He will investigate space sickness, lower back pain and collect data on microorganisms inside the ISS.

Space chat
Olsen is scheduled to lift off aboard a Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome at 0354 GMT on 1 October. He will ride with ISS commander Bill McArthur and flight engineer Valery Tokarev, who will stay aboard the station for six months.

The crew will dock with the ISS on 3 October. Olsen will stay aboard for seven days, doing his experiments, hosting webcasts and talking with high school students on Earth. On 10 October, he will return to Earth aboard the Soyuz with the current ISS crew, John Phillips and Sergei Krikalev.

The presence of a space tourist is not the only unusual aspect of this flight. It is the last in a series in which Russia allowed US astronauts to fly onboard Soyuz spacecraft, and US law currently forbids the US from paying for Soyuz rides. This means McArthur is not guaranteed a ride back to Earth with Tokarev on the next Soyuz mission and would have to return aboard a US space shuttle.

Political problem
But damage from Hurricane Katrina and the need to fix falling foam from the shuttle's external tank have made it unclear when the next shuttle will launch. So a return on a Soyuz is NASA's first preference, says agency spokesperson Kylie Clem.

That may be possible if the US House of Representatives works out an agreement with the US Senate, which recently passed a bill that would allow the US to buy more seats on the Soyuz.

Another twist to the mission is that ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter was supposed to use the shuttle to join McArthur and Tokarev on the station. But if the shuttle does not fly in time, he may miss them entirely. "It would be sad if he will not fly during our mission, but I keep my fingers crossed," Tokarev told New Scientist in August.

If he does join them, it will mark the first three-person station crew since just after the space shuttle Columbia accident in 2003. Shuttle flights stopped after the accident, forcing ISS crews to shrink to two members to conserve station supplies.

http://www.newscientistspace.com/article.ns?id=dn8070

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Space tourist docks with station

Fare-paying space tourist Gregory Olsen has arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) - for a stay he expects to be more hard work than a holiday.
The Russian Soyuz rocket, which also delivered a new two-man crew for the ISS, took off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur launch site on Saturday.

The US businessman and scientist is taking a 10-day trip to the ISS. He is the third person to holiday there.

The ticket price was not disclosed but is thought to be up to £11m ($19.3m).

'Hard work'

Members of Dr Olsen's family watched the docking with US and Russian space officials at Russian Mission Control in Korolyov, outside Moscow.

Dr Olsen has said he expects the trip to be a working holiday - and plans to carry out a number of self-designed experiments while he is on board.

"The term 'tourist' doesn't do justice to all the work I've put in, or the work that the people at the Gagarin centre (outside Moscow) put in preparing us," Dr Olsen said before take-off.

He also expects to test equipment for his firm, Sensors Unlimited, which develops and produces highly sensitive film and photo cameras, and works with the US space agency (Nasa).

Officials said the rocket passengers would have to wait about three hours before the air locks to the ISS were opened, allowing them to meet the station's crew.

Commander William McArthur from the US, and Russian Flight Engineer Valery Tokarev, will then take over from Sergei Krikalev and John Phillips, who have been in space since April.

During their stay, McArthur and Tokarev - the 12th ISS crew - will do two or three spacewalks to install equipment and carry out maintenance.

Krikalev and Phillips will return to Earth along with Mr Olsen on 11 October.

Two other people have previously taken a holiday on the station: American Dennis Tito in 2001 and South African Mark Shuttleworth in 2002.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4303596.stm
 

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Space tourist docks with station

Fare-paying space tourist Gregory Olsen has arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) - for a stay he expects to be more hard work than a holiday.
The Russian Soyuz rocket, which also delivered a new two-man crew for the ISS, took off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur launch site on Saturday.

The US businessman and scientist is taking a 10-day trip to the ISS. He is the third person to holiday there.

The ticket price was not disclosed but is thought to be up to £11m ($19.3m).

'Hard work'

Members of Dr Olsen's family watched the docking with US and Russian space officials at Russian Mission Control in Korolyov, outside Moscow.

Dr Olsen has said he expects the trip to be a working holiday - and plans to carry out a number of self-designed experiments while he is on board.

"The term 'tourist' doesn't do justice to all the work I've put in, or the work that the people at the Gagarin centre (outside Moscow) put in preparing us," Dr Olsen said before take-off.

He also expects to test equipment for his firm, Sensors Unlimited, which develops and produces highly sensitive film and photo cameras, and works with the US space agency (Nasa).

Officials said the rocket passengers would have to wait about three hours before the air locks to the ISS were opened, allowing them to meet the station's crew.

Commander William McArthur from the US, and Russian Flight Engineer Valery Tokarev, will then take over from Sergei Krikalev and John Phillips, who have been in space since April.

During their stay, McArthur and Tokarev - the 12th ISS crew - will do two or three spacewalks to install equipment and carry out maintenance.

Krikalev and Phillips will return to Earth along with Mr Olsen on 11 October.

Two other people have previously taken a holiday on the station: American Dennis Tito in 2001 and South African Mark Shuttleworth in 2002.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4303596.stm
 

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V-2 Based Canadian Arrow Rocket To Launch Manned Spaceflight

V-2 Based Canadian Arrow Rocket To Launch Manned Spaceflights In 2007

Illustration of Canadian Arrow.
London ON (SPX) Oct 05, 2005
Launch Complex 33 is the site of the first launch of a V-2 rocket in the US. No longer a weapon of war, it was used as an instrument of science to help the US gain experience in handling and firing large rockets.
Today Launch Complex 33 is a tourist attraction as the WSMR museum continues to preserve this important piece of space history for later generations.

"During our visit last Nov. to the WSMR we noticed they had a smaller rocket on the original V-2 launch pad at Complex 33. We were also informed by museum staff they would like an actual V-2 rocket on the stand as part of their upgrade of the display. Today however V-2 rockets are scarce and none are available to them," said PlanetSpace president and CEO Geoff Sheerin.

The WSMR museum was a great help to the Canadian Arrow engineering group in the early days of their project and Canadian Arrow has a debt of gratitude to the friendly and helpful people they met on the range.

The first launch of the Canadian Arrow rocket is scheduled for 2007. After subsequent flights of the rocket, decommission flight components will come available by 2008.

Since a Canadian Arrow rocket is based on the V-2 design, the tail and nose cone structures are identical to the original V-2 and will be assembled to produce a replica of the V-2 rocket.

PlanetSpace and Canadian Arrow officials will arrive at Launch Complex 33 on Oct. 6th 10:30 am with the full scale, 54ft long, engineering mockup of the Canadian Arrow rocket. They will publicly announce their commitment to donation a full scale V-2 replica in 2008 for use at Complex 33 launch pad.

"We cannot think of a better use for our flown rocket components than to help the museum build a monument to the first launches of the V-2 rocket in the pursuit of science," said Sheerin.

"White Sands missile range is the cradle of the US space and missile program, and it gives us great satisfaction to see the help provided to Canadian Arrow by the WSMR, come full circle, and provide a brand new display for their museum," said PlanetSpace Chairman Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria.

For clearance to attend the visit of the Canadian Arrow rocket at WSMR complex 33 on Oct 6th 10:30 am please contact Jim Eckles Public Affairs Office WSMR (505) 678-1134. To book a school tour, get directions, call Terrie Cornell (505) 678-8824.


http://www.spacedaily.com/news/tourism-05zj.html
 

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Space Tourist Greg Olsen Makes First Solo ISS Broadcast

Space Tourist Greg Olsen Makes First Solo ISS Broadcast
Tariq Malik
Staff Writer
SPACE.com
Tue Oct 4, 9:00 PM ET



Despite a satellite communications glitch, U.S. scientist and entrepreneur Gregory Olsen spoke live from the International Space Station (ISS) briefly Tuesday in the first of three planned solo broadcasts during his orbital spaceflight.





"Welcome to space," Olsen said through static and interrupted video, adding that the feed was suffering from satellite problems. "We're lucky to have any communications at all."





Olsen was able to thank his family, friends and colleagues who made the long trip from the United States to Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to witness his even longer trip into Earth orbit during his Sept. 30 launch. The broadcast was the first of three, 12-minute events Olsen plans during his time on orbit.





Olsen is the third space tourist - though he prefers the term spaceflight participant - to visit the ISS, and paid $20 million for the ride under an agreement with Russia's Federal Space Agency. His trip, like those of Mark Shuttleworth in 2002 and Dennis Tito in 2001, was brokered by the Arlington, Virginia space tourism firm Space Adventures.





"It's really nice here," Olsen said of the space station. "It's nice and roomy."





With its primary components - the Russian-built Zarya control module, Zvezda service module, and the U.S.-built Destiny laboratory - and docking ports, the space station is about as large as a three-bedroom home, NASA officials have said.





Olsen launched toward the ISS with NASA astronaut Bill McArthur and Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev - the two-person crew of Expedition 12 - at 11:55 p.m. EDT on Sept. 30 (0355 Oct. 1 GMT). After two days of cramped spaceflight inside their Soyuz TMA-7 spacecraft, the three men docked at the space station at about 1:36 a.m. EDT (0436 GMT) on Oct. 3.





"In some ways it's like camping out, because we have no running water, no sinks and we kind of have to fend for ourselves for food," Olsen said.





During his brief broadcast, Olsen credited professors at Fairleigh Dickenson University in Teaneck, New Jersey - where he earned a masters degrees in physics - for fanning his interest in space. He also thanked engineering students at the University of Virginia, where Olsen attained his PhD in materials science, for building a spectrometer for his flight.




Olsen had hoped to take an infrared spectrometer built by his Princeton, New Jersey firm Sensors Unlimited on his ISS trip, but will instead conduct three medical experiments designed to study the human body's reaction to the absence of gravity for the European Space Agency.



Earlier Tuesday, Olsen joined the astronauts of the Expedition 11 and Expedition 12 space station to speak with reporters back on Earth via a video link.



During that group briefing, Olsen said the professional astronauts made him feel welcome aboard the space station.

Gregory Olsen: Third Space Tourist Aims for Orbit Image Gallery: Space Tourist Greg Olsen prepares for launch Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 11 Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 12


http://news.yahoo.com/s/space/20051005/ ... sbroadcast
 

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Tourist Olsen Returns To Earth

The Soyuz space capsule carrying US millionaire businessman Greg Olsen returned to Earth on Tuesday, the Russian Space Flight Control Centre said.
The Soyuz, which began its return journey to Earth by separating from the International Space Station at 2149 GMT Monday, landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan in central Asia at 0109 GMT Tuesday, a spokesman for the centre said.

The third civilian in history to pay for a space flight, arranged by Space Adventures, the sole space travel agency in operation, traveled home with US astronaut John Phillips and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev.

"The three are well," the spokesman said after the safe landing.

Krikalev and Phillips had been aboard the ISS since April 17. They were replaced by American William MacArthur and Russian Valery Tokarev, who lifted off with their space tourist from Baikonur in Kazakhstan for the ISS space station October 1.

Olsen, 60, paid Space Adventures 20 million dollars (16.5 million euros) for a seat aboard the capsule and eight days of gazing down at the Earth from the ISS station, 230 miles (370 kilometers) up.

The space station is parked permanently in space and manned by a succession of teams relieving each other at regular intervals.

Olsen spent 1,500 hours preparing for his mission at a space base near Moscow and at Baikonur.

He was preceded into space by two other millionaire tourists, American Dennis Tito in 2001, followed by South African Mark Shuttleworth the following year.

During his eight-day journey aboard the ISS Olsen planned to test equipment developed by his company, a New Jersey-based firm that makes electronic sensors for military and civilian use.

http://www.spacedaily.com/news/tourism-05zo.html
 

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Japanese Businessman Picked As Next Would-Be 'Space Tourist'

Japanese Businessman Picked As Next Would-Be 'Space Tourist'

A Japanese businessman could become the fourth non-professional to travel to outer space next fall, the Russian Space Agency said Monday, reports RIA Novosti.

Alexei Krasnov, the agency's director for manned missions, told the Japanese newspaper Asahi that Mr. Enomoto had passed a physical and was now starting a training program for a flight next fall.

An eight-day vacation at the International Space Station will cost the man $20 million.

U.S. billionaire Dennis Tito visited the ISS in 2001 as the first fare-paying "space tourist." South Africa's Mark Shuttleworth followed in 2002. American businessman and scientist Gregory Olsen winds up his stint on the ISS Tuesday.

Krasnov said money brought in by space tourism goes to support programs run by the agency.

He said the annual number of ISS tours for non-professionals will be increased to four in 2009, from today's two, and that ISS crews could be doubled thanks to the new Russian six-seater shuttle, the Klipper.

Copyright 2005 by Space Daily, Distributed United Press International

http://www.physorg.com/news7141.html
 

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Clear skies for Virgin spaceliner


Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has collected $10m in deposits from people wanting a quick ride beyond Earth's atmosphere.

Another 34,000 would-be astronauts have registered for rides aboard a commercial version of the experimental Ansari X Prize winner SpaceShipOne.

The cost to experience four to five minutes of weightlessness is about $200,000 (£113,242).

The project was threatened earlier this year by US export control regulations.

Last year, SpaceShipOne completed two sub-orbital spaceflights in a week to claim the $10m Ansari X-Prize.

Virgin Galactic is paying SpaceShipOne designer Burt Rutan's firm to build a fleet of five vessels for suborbital spaceflights. Test flights are on schedule to begin in 2007, with commercial operations to begin a year later.

"At the moment, we don't see any hurdles," said Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn.

Ship size expands

Since the project's announcement just before SpaceShipOne's prize-winning flight from Mojave, California, Sir Richard and Mr Rutan decided to expand the size of the follow-on commercial version of the vehicle, informally known as SpaceShipTwo.

A final design is scheduled to be announced before the end of the year. But the plan now is for each ship to be capable of carrying six or seven passengers and two pilots, said Mr Whitehorn, who was in Washington, DC this week for a series of meetings and speaking engagements.

"We're very happy with it," Mr Whitehorn said.

The spaceships will be about the size of a Gulfstream Five business jet and like SpaceShipOne, will piggyback a ride atop a larger airplane before its rocket engines ignite to travel beyond the atmosphere.

SpaceShipOne made three trips to suborbital space - defined as 100km (328,000 feet) - including a record-breaking lunge to 367,442 feet (112km) or 69.6 miles above the planet's surface.

Mr Rutan's firm plans to build two mother ships, each about the size of a 737, to carry SpaceShipTwo vehicles into the sky.

Joy rides

To give passengers a bit more thrill for their pricey rides, SpaceShipTwo may be carted a couple of hundred miles away from the take-off sites before being released for launch. That would enable riders to take in a more diverse view of Earth-in-the-round.

Most important, however, is to maximize the time during which passengers experience microgravity.

"When we asked people about what they wanted in a suborbital spaceflight the top three things were weightlessness, weightlessness and weightlessness," Mr Whitehorn said.

The seating compartments on SpaceShipTwo are being designed so that passengers can float around a bit while tethered to their seats.

Initially, Virgin Galactic plans for all flights to take off and land in the United States, Mr Whitehorn said. In addition to flying from the Mojave Airport, where Mr Rutan's firm is based, the company is looking at sites in New Mexico and Florida.

Export issues

The project was threatened earlier this year by US export control regulations, which prohibited British participants from even looking at designs produced by Mr Rutan's firm, Scaled Composites.

Virgin Galactic however finally received a licence and that not only cleared the way for full participation in the project, but also enabled the firm to become a part-owner of a new venture, called The SpaceShip Company.

This firm plans to market and license SpaceShipTwo technology to other companies that want to buy the vehicles.

"We see this is a good precursor for the future as we expand into orbital flight," Mr Whitehorn said.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4365612.stm
 
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