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With the advent of trips on Russian Soyuz rockets to Mir and the International Space Station, space tourism became an actual and quite expensive reality. The first space tourists, like the first customers when any new technology comes out, were wealthy. The more interesting thing is while they are famous for being the world’s first space tourists; they also had a credible background in science and aeronautics themselves.
The very first self-funded tourist in space was Dennis Tito. Mr. Tito was originally by profession an engineer who got graduated from New York University with a bachelor’s degree in astronautics and aeronautics and a Masters’ degrees in engineering science from Renssellaer Polytechnic. He even worked for NASA’s advanced propulsion Lab. So as you can see if you could pick someone other than an actual astronaut to be the first tourist in space Dennis Tito was an ideal candidate. The trip was quite costly at somewhere between $12 to $20 million dollars. Mr. Tito was easily able to afford this as he made a fortune on Wall Street with his investment firm Wilshire Associates.
The first woman to become a tourist was Anouseh Ansari, an telecommunications entrepreneur. She is most famous for her family which funded the Ansari X prize. Mrs. Ansari is in an Iranian American who, with her husband, founded Telecom Technologies Inc. The company was later sold for $550 million. Like Mr. Tito she also has an extensive background and her family’s commitment to affordable space travel had a major impact with X prize, $10 million dollar prize for the group that could successfully build a privately funded space craft. The competition went on to spur over $100 million worth of research by private companies. Thanks to this investment, the private sector has started to make serious investment in space technology spawning space tourism companies such Virgin Galactic.
The importance of these tourists is that they are active members of the scientific community who just happened to have the money to go to space. Still, this has a major impact in attracting investment into private space travel as businesses start to see the market develop for it. In many ways it resembles the business strategy of companies like Tesla Motors a company owned by Elon Musk, another entrepreneur interested in affordable space travel. First the new technology is offered as a high end product to spur interest and raise capital. The next stage is to progressively lower the price and make it available to the rest of the public as its popularity and available capital for improvements increases. This model may very well be the future source of funding and innovation for space travel.
If you enjoyed this article there are several others on Universe Today you will enjoy. There is an interesting article about the construction of the world’s first spaceport. There is also an article about Hawaii wanting to attract companies promoting space tourism.
There are also great resources on the web. There is an interesting article on space tourism on the How Stuff Works website. The New York Times has a great article on Charles Simonyi another space tourist who is went on a second trip to space in March 2009.
You can also listen to episodes on Astronomy task to learn about related topic. Episode 84 Getting around the Solar System is very interesting.