Dennis Tito had to pay the Russians 2 million dollars in order to be the first tourist in space, but companies are working hard to develop craft that will make space travel affordable in the next decade.
Space Adventures, the Virginia company that arranged Tito’s flight to the International Space Station, has already flown 150 customers up 80,000 feet, to the edge of the earth’s atmosphere, where the curvature of the earth and the darkness of space are visible.
Within 3 years, they think they can produce a privately-built sub-orbital rocket that will be able to take passengers on a trip to space similar to the first trip into space by U.S. astronaut Alan Shepherd 40 years ago. The price of the trip will be only $98,000.
Another company, Space Island, wants to build its own space station, along with a fleet of 6 space shuttles. They plan to take passengers on week-long trips by 2007. Other companies are planning hotels in orbit and tourist trips to the moon.
"Forty years after the Wright brothers, we had 3 million people making airplane flights," says David Gump, president of the Luna Corporation, which plans to make a private landing on the moon. "It’s an unnatural thing we don’t have space tourism now. But because Apollo was so successful, no one ever questioned if America should have centrally-run government space effort."
Critics such as John Logsdon, of George Washington University, dismiss Tito’s space trip as "high-tech bungee jumping." But even he can see what’s coming: "I think it’s inevitable at some point in the future there will be public space travel, but I’d say it’ll be 25 years, maybe 20 years."
"Don’t think about what aviation’s like in 2001," says Gregg Maryniak of the X Prize Foundation. "Think about what aviation was like in 1904 or 1908,or after World War I, because that’s where we are today."
Surveys show that more than 60% of people in developed countries would buy a ticket for a space vacation if they could. Most of them would be willing to spend between $15,000 and $20,000. That’s well below the current costs of $10,000 per pound of payload.
Larry Ortega, of Space Adventures, says there are other candidates lined up behind Dennis Tito who are willing to pay the Russians another 20 million in order to fly in space.
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