If flying to the International Space Station has been one of your lifelong dreams, don’t give up hope just yet. While NASA and even the Russian space agency have been warning that with the increase in crew size on the ISS, there won’t be room for any space tourists on board the Soyuz crew exchange flights, Eric Anderson, CEO of Space Adventures held a news conference on Friday to let everyone know the space tourist game is still on. “Space Adventures is very much looking to continue providing orbital space flight opportunities to the ISS, even as the logistical and crew situation continues to evolve,” Anderson said. “We plan to do this in two ways. First, via privately funded Soyuz missions; fully dedicated flights of the Soyuz with two seats available for private spaceflight. That program is moving full steam ahead and we anticipate first flight of that profile could launch in 2012.” The second option, Anderson said, is that they anticipate the 3rd seat on board the Soyuz could become available occasionally.
“The third seat will mostly be used to facilitate the expanded crew size, but there might be sets of circumstances where the third seat is available,” Anderson said. “It’s too early to tell for sure, but we believe this will be possible in the future.”
Anderson said Space Adventures has also received new information, about the possibility of a seat opening up on Soyuz TMA 16 flight, scheduled for Sept. 16, 2009. “We’ve learned from Roscosmos that the seat may not be used by cosmonaut from Kazakhstan, and they are considering another spaceflight participant, or another Russian cosmonaut. It’s too early to confirm whether such an opportunity firmly exists, but I mention it because it is a distinct possibility. ” Aydyn Aimbetov is the Kazak cosmonaut in question.
Asked who could be ready on such a short timeframe, Anderson was vague, but mentioned Esther Dyson, and Nik Halik, who have both trained as back-up spaceflight participants could possibly be candidates.
Anderson said Space Adventures has many exciting things planned on board the ISS over the next few years, and hope the continued prospect of short term stays by private citizens will continue to be part of that.
While the Russians have at times been hard pressed to come up with enough Soyuz spacecraft for the two crew exchange flights needed per year, Anderson said he’s confidant that by 2012 the prospect of adding more Soyuz flights is reasonable.
“Historically, there have been many times in the past where Russia has launched more than two Soyuz flights a year,” Anderson said. “We believe the more people we have traveling to the ISS the better it is, for everybody. It is a good thing for private citizens to be able to visit this wonderful space station from time to time.”
Anderson even hinted that the crew rotation logistics for professional astronauts from the countries participating in the ISS partnership could be in flux. “The crew size could go up and down from the base-line planning of six, due to budgetary questions, and questions of how long each astronaut stays on station,” he said. “We believe there’s the likelihood of these flights opening up from time to time.”
Asked if he anticipate increased cost of the tourist flights, Anderson said yes. “Costs have definitely been going up and I expect those trends to continue. Inflationary factors have driven up the costs and I expect that to continue.”
Anderson said there has been steady interest from the public in spaceflights to the ISS, despite the economic downturn. “The times we’re in, of course we are being affected by the economic crises. No company in unaffected, but the kind of person who indicates to us they are interested in flying to space is an long-term thinker, and people who have had a lifelong interest in going to space doesn’t allow an economic downturn to change their mind. It’s a multiyear process for this to happen, and there is still a deep-seated interest from the public. As things turn around, I’m sure we’ll see an uptick in interest.”
Anderson said Space Adventures has been excited about Charles Simonyi who is currently on board the ISS during his second flight, and that his stay has been extended by a day due to weather.
“He has been quite busy with mission activities, supportive of the ISS professional crew, and volunteered to assist crew with their duties,” Anderson said. “At this point we’re proud to have been provided the six private individual people with these seven flights; to provide them the opportunity to fulfill their dreams of flying to space. I remain proud of Space Adventures and all our partners and am excited about what the future holds.”
Source: Space Adventures telephone conference 4/3/2009