Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Space tourism is the recent phenomenon of space travel by individuals for the purpose of personal pleasure. At the moment, space tourism is only affordable to exceptionally wealthy individuals, with the Russian space program providing transport.
Among the primary attractions of space tourism are the uniqueness of the experience, the awesome and thrilling feelings of looking at Earth from space (described by astronauts as extremely intense and mind-boggling), status symbol, and various advantages of weightlessness.
After initial successes in space, many people saw intensive space exploration as inevitable. In the minds of many people, such exploration was symbolised by wide public access to space, mostly in the form of space tourism. Those aspirations are best remembered in science fiction works, such as Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Larry Niven's Known Space stories; however, during the 1960s and 1970s, it was common belief that space hotels would be launched by 2000. Many futurologists around the middle of the 20th century speculated that the average family of the early 21st century would be able to enjoy a holiday on the Moon.
Subsidiary government flights
Whilst it is argued that John Glenn was essentially a tourist on his 1997 shuttle flight (STS-95), commercial space tourism did not start until the 21st century. Ironically, the first real steps in commercial space tourism were taken by Russian space companies. Faced with greatly diminished financing, the Russian space industry had to find original ways to fund orbital launches. MirCorp began seeking potential space tourists to visit Russia's Mir space station, in order to offset some of its maintenance costs. Dennis Tito, an American businessman and former JPL scientist, became the first candidate. When the decision to dismantle Mir was made, though, MirCorp opted to instead send Tito to the International Space Station.
On April 28th, 2001, Tito became the first fee-paying space tourist when he visited the ISS for seven days. He was followed by South African Mark Shuttleworth. More individuals are keen to make the trip, such as boy band singer Lance Bass, who however had his trip canceled due to funding problems, and scientist and entrepreneur Gregory Olsen. After the Columbia disaster, space tourism on the Russian Soyuz program was temporarily put on hold, as Soyuz vehicles became the only available transport to the ISS.
The American company Space Adventures has an agreement with the Russian Space Agency for a dedicated commercial flight to the ISS. The price for a trip on the Soyuz rocket is $20 million, with a preliminary launch date of 2005.
Commercial space flights
More affordable space tourism is viewed as a money-making proposition by several startup companies, including Blue Origin. Most are proposing vehicles making suborbital flights lasting an hour or two, peaking at an altitude around 100 kilometres, which would give passengers several minutes of weightlessness, a view of a twinkle-free starfield, and a view of the curved Earth below. Projected costs are expected to be in the range of $100,000 per passenger.
Constellation Services International (CSI) is working on a project to send manned spacecraft on commercial circumlunar missions. Their offer would include a week-long stay at the ISS, as well as a week-long trip around the Moon. They expect to be operational by 2008, according to their best case scenario.
In the long term, orbital tourism may be superceded by planetary (and, later still, interstellar) tourism. Such possibilities have been explored in detail in many science fiction works.
In the late 1990s, some companies toyed with the idea of creating orbital hotels using discarded Shuttle fuel tanks or inflatable structures, but not much was done beyond feasibility studies.
More recently, American motel tycoon Robert Bigelow has acquired the designs of inflatable space habitats from the TransHab program abandoned by NASA. His company, Bigelow Aerospace is currently planning to launch a first orbital hotel by early 2006. Other companies have also expressed interest in constructing "space hotels". For example, Virgin executive and billionaire Richard Branson has expressed his hope for the construction of a space hotel within his lifetime. 
- Profile: Tito the spaceman. BBC article about Dennis Tito's tourist flight.
- RSC Energia Profile of Dennis Tito
- Space Adventures® Announces First Commercial Mission to the International Space Station. Press release announcing the contract to purchase one Soyuz flight.
- Space Future. Website hosting articles pertinent to commercial space activity.
- National Space Society - Non-profit organization that promotes a spacefaring civilization.
- Branson reaches for the stars in The Guardian
- Space.com Space Tourism. Recent news articles about space tourism.
- Virgin Galactic. Licensee of SpaceShipOne technology and potential future operator of suborbital tourist flights.
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