Space tourism is space travel for recreational, leisure or business purposes. There are several different types of space tourism, including orbital, suborbital and lunar space tourism. To date, orbital space tourism has been performed only by the Russian Space Agency. Work also continues towards developing suborbital space tourism vehicles. This is being done by aerospace companies like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic. In addition, SpaceX (an aerospace manufacturer) announced in 2018 that it is planning on sending two space tourists on a free-return trajectory around the Moon on the upper stage of SpaceX's BFR rocket, known as the Big Falcon Spaceship (BFS).
During the period from 2001 to 2009, the publicized price for flights brokered by Space Adventures to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft was in the range of US$20-40 million. 7 space tourists made 8 space flights during this time. Some space tourists have signed contracts with third parties to conduct certain research activities while in orbit. By 2007, space tourism was thought to be one of the earliest markets that would emerge for commercial spaceflight.:11 Space Adventures is the only company that has sent paying passengers to space. In conjunction with the Federal Space Agency of the Russian Federation and Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, Space Adventures facilitated the flights for all of the world's first private space explorers. The first three participants paid in excess of $20 million (USD) each for their 10-day visit to the ISS.
Russia halted orbital space tourism in 2010 due to the increase in the International Space Station crew size, using the seats for expedition crews that would previously have been sold to paying spaceflight participants. Orbital tourist flights were set to resume in 2015 but the one planned was postponed indefinitely and none have occurred since 2009.
As an alternative term to "tourism", some organizations such as the Commercial Spaceflight Federation use the term "personal spaceflight". The Citizens in Space project uses the term "citizen space exploration".
Many private space travelers have objected to the term "space tourist", often pointing out that their role went beyond that of an observer, since they also carried out scientific experiments in the course of their journey. Richard Garriott additionally emphasized that his training was identical to the requirements of non-Russian Soyuz crew members, and that teachers and other non-professional astronauts chosen to fly with NASA are called astronauts. He has said that if the distinction has to be made, he would rather be called "private astronaut" than "tourist". Dennis Tito has asked to be known as an "independent researcher", and Mark Shuttleworth described himself as a "pioneer of commercial space travel". Gregory Olsen prefers "private researcher", and Anousheh Ansari prefers the term "private space explorer". Other space enthusiasts object to the term on similar grounds. Rick Tumlinson of the Space Frontier Foundation, for example, has said: "I hate the word tourist, and I always will ... 'Tourist' is somebody in a flowered shirt with three cameras around his neck." Russian cosmonaut Maksim Surayev told the press in 2009 not to describe Guy Laliberté as a tourist: "It's become fashionable to speak of space tourists. He is not a tourist but a participant in the mission."
"Spaceflight participant" is the official term used by NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency to distinguish between private space travelers and career astronauts. Tito, Shuttleworth, Olsen, Ansari, and Simonyi were designated as such during their respective space flights. NASA also lists Christa McAuliffe as a spaceflight participant (although she did not pay a fee), apparently due to her non-technical duties aboard the STS-51-L flight.
The US Federal Aviation Administration awards the title of "Commercial Astronaut" to trained crew members of privately funded spacecraft. The only people currently holding this title are Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie, the pilots of SpaceShipOne.
The Soviet space program was aggressive in broadening the pool of cosmonauts. The Soviet Intercosmos program included cosmonauts selected from Warsaw Pact member countries (Czechoslovakia, Poland, East Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania) and later from allies of the USSR (Cuba, Mongolia, Vietnam) and non-aligned countries (India, Syria, Afghanistan). Most of these cosmonauts received full training for their missions and were treated as equals, but were generally given shorter flights than Soviet cosmonauts. The European Space Agency (ESA) also took advantage of the program.
The US space shuttle program included payload specialist positions which were usually filled by representatives of companies or institutions managing a specific payload on that mission. These payload specialists did not receive the same training as professional NASA astronauts and were not employed by NASA. In 1983, Ulf Merbold from ESA and Byron Lichtenberg from MIT (engineer and Air Force fighter pilot) were the first payload specialists to fly on the Space Shuttle, on mission STS-9.
In 1984, Charles D. Walker became the first non-government astronaut to fly, with his employer McDonnell Douglas paying US$40,000 (equivalent to $94,375 in 2017) for his flight. NASA was also eager to prove its capability to Congressional sponsors. During the 1970s, Shuttle prime contractor Rockwell International studied a $200-300 million removable cabin that could fit into the Shuttle's cargo bay. The cabin could carry up to 74 passengers into orbit for up to three days. Space Habitation Design Associates proposed, in 1983, a cabin for 72 passengers in the bay. Passengers were located in six sections, each with windows and its own loading ramp, and with seats in different configurations for launch and landing. Another proposal was based on the Spacelab habitation modules, which provided 32 seats in the payload bay in addition to those in the cockpit area. A 1985 presentation to the National Space Society stated that, although flying tourists in the cabin would cost $1 to 1.5 million per passenger without government subsidy, within 15 years 30,000 people a year would pay US$25,000 (equivalent to $56,977 in 2017) each to fly in space on new spacecraft. The presentation also forecast flights to lunar orbit within 30 years and visits to the lunar surface within 50 years.
As the shuttle program expanded in the early 1980s, NASA began a Space Flight Participant program to allow citizens without scientific or governmental roles to fly. Christa McAuliffe was chosen as the first Teacher in Space in July 1985 from 11,400 applicants. 1,700 applied for the Journalist in Space program. An Artist in Space program was considered, and NASA expected that after McAuliffe's flight two to three civilians a year would fly on the shuttle. After McAuliffe was killed in the Challenger disaster in January 1986, the programs were canceled. McAuliffe's backup, Barbara Morgan, eventually got hired in 1998 as a professional astronaut and flew on STS-118 as a mission specialist.:84-85 A second journalist-in-space program, in which NASA green-lighted Miles O'Brien to fly on the space shuttle, was scheduled to be announced in 2003. That program was canceled in the wake of the Columbia disaster on STS-107 and subsequent emphasis on finishing the International Space Station before retiring the space shuttle.
Initially, senior figures at NASA strongly opposed space tourism on principal; from the beginning of the ISS expeditions, NASA stated it wasn't interested in accommodating paying guests. The Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Committee On Science of the House of Representatives held in June 2001 revealed the shifting attitude of NASA towards paying space tourists wanting to travel to the ISS in its statement on the hearing's purpose:
"Review the issues and opportunities for flying nonprofessional astronauts in space, the appropriate government role for supporting the nascent space tourism industry, use of the Shuttle and Space Station for Tourism, safety and training criteria for space tourists, and the potential commercial market for space tourism."
With the realities of the post-Perestroika economy in Russia, its space industry was especially starved for cash. The Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) offered to pay for one of its reporters to fly on a mission. Toyohiro Akiyama was flown in 1990 to Mir with the eighth crew and returned a week later with the seventh crew. Cost estimates vary from $10 million up to $37 million. Akiyama gave a daily TV broadcast from orbit and also performed scientific experiments for Russian and Japanese companies. However, since the cost of the flight was paid by his employer, Akiyama could be considered a business traveler rather than a tourist.
In 1991, British chemist Helen Sharman was selected from a pool of 13,000 applicants to be the first Briton in space. The program was known as Project Juno and was a cooperative arrangement between the Soviet Union and a group of British companies. The Project Juno consortium failed to raise the funds required, and the program was almost canceled. Reportedly Mikhail Gorbachev ordered it to proceed under Soviet expense in the interests of international relations, but in the absence of Western underwriting, less expensive experiments were substituted for those in the original plans. Sharman flew aboard Soyuz TM-12 to Mir and returned aboard Soyuz TM-11.
As of 2018, no suborbital space tourism has yet occurred, but since it is projected to be more affordable, many companies view it as a money-making proposition. Most are proposing vehicles that make suborbital flights peaking at an altitude of 100-160 km (62-99 mi). Passengers would experience three to six minutes of weightlessness, a view of a twinkle-free starfield, and a vista of the curved Earth below. Projected costs are expected to be about $200,000 per passenger.
At the end of the 1990s, MirCorp, a private venture that was by then in charge of the space station, began seeking potential space tourists to visit Mir in order to offset some of its maintenance costs. Dennis Tito, an American businessman and former JPL scientist, became their first candidate. When the decision was made to de-orbit Mir, Tito managed to switch his trip to the International Space Station (ISS) through a deal between MirCorp and US-based Space Adventures, Ltd. Dennis Tito visited the ISS for seven days in April-May 2001, becoming the world's first "fee-paying" space tourist.
Tito was followed in April 2002 by South African Mark Shuttleworth (Soyuz TM-34). The third was Gregory Olsen in October 2005 (Soyuz TMA-7). In February 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts aboard. After this disaster, space tourism on the Russian Soyuz program was temporarily put on hold, because Soyuz vehicles became the only available transport to the ISS. After the Shuttle return to service in July 2005, space tourism was resumed. In September 2006, an Iranian American businesswoman named Anousheh Ansari became the fourth space tourist (Soyuz TMA-9).) In April 2007, Charles Simonyi, an American businessman of Hungarian descent, joined their ranks (Soyuz TMA-10). Simonyi became the first repeat space tourist, paying again to fly on Soyuz TMA-14 in March 2009. British-American Richard Garriott became the next space tourist in October 2008 aboard Soyuz TMA-14. As of 2018, Canadian Guy Laliberté is the most recent tourism to fly to the ISS, in September 2009 aboard Soyuz TMA-16. Since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011, Soyuz once again became the only means of accessing the ISS, and so tourism was once again put on hold.
Bigelow Aerospace acquired the designs for inflatable space habitats from NASA's Transhab program, and has already launched two first inflatable habitat modules. The first, named Genesis I, was launched in July 2006, and the second test module, Genesis II, was launched in June 2007. Both Genesis habitats remain in orbit as of 2018.
After valuable resources were detected on the Moon, private companies began to formulate methods to extract the resources. Article II of the Outer Space Treaty dictates that "outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means". However, countries have the right to freely explore the Moon and any resources collected are property of that country when they return.
In December 2005, the US government released a set of proposed rules for space tourism. These included screening procedures and training for emergency situations, but not health requirements.
Under current US law, any company proposing to launch paying passengers from American soil on a suborbital rocket must receive a license from the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST). The licensing process focuses on public safety and safety of property, and the details can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 14, Chapter III. This is in accordance with the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act passed by Congress in 2004.
In March 2010, the New Mexico legislature passed the Spaceflight Informed Consent Act. The SICA gives legal protection to companies who provide private space flights in the case of accidental harm or death to individuals. Participants sign an Informed Consent waiver, dictating that spaceflight operators cannot be held liable in the "death of a participant resulting from the inherent risks of space flight activities". Operators are however not covered in the case of gross negligence or willful misconduct.
A web-based survey suggested that over 70% of those surveyed wanted less than or equal to 2 weeks in space; in addition, 88% wanted to spacewalk (only 14% of these would do it for a 50% premium), and 21% wanted a hotel or space station.
The concept has met with some criticism from some, including politicians, notably Günter Verheugen, vice-president of the European Commission, who said of the EADS Astrium Space Tourism Project: "It's only for the super-rich, which is against my social convictions".
A 2010 study published in Geophysical Research Letters raised concerns that the growing commercial spaceflight industry could accelerate global warming. The study, funded by NASA and The Aerospace Corporation, simulated the impact of 1,000 suborbital launches of hybrid rockets from a single location, calculating that this would release a total of 600 tonnes of black carbon into the stratosphere. They found that the resultant layer of soot particles remained relatively localized, with only 20% of the carbon straying into the southern hemisphere, thus creating a strong hemispherical asymmetry. This unbalance would cause the temperature to decrease by about 0.4 °C (0.72 °F) in the tropics and subtropics, whereas the temperature at the poles would increase by between 0.2 and 1 °C (0.36 and 1.80 °F). The ozone layer would also be affected, with the tropics losing up to 1.7% of ozone cover, and the polar regions gaining 5-6%. The researchers stressed that these results should not be taken as "a precise forecast of the climate response to a specific launch rate of a specific rocket type", but as a demonstration of the sensitivity of the atmosphere to the large-scale disruption that commercial space tourism could bring.
Several organizations have been formed to promote the space tourism industry, including the Space Tourism Society, Space Future, and HobbySpace. UniGalactic Space Travel Magazine is a bi-monthly educational publication covering space tourism and space exploration developments in companies like SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, Virgin Galactic and organizations like NASA.
A 2010 report from the Federal Aviation Administration, titled "The Economic Impact of Commercial Space Transportation on the U. S Economy in 2009", cites studies done by Futron, an aerospace and technology-consulting firm, which predict that space tourism could become a billion-dollar market within 20 years. In addition, in the nearly two decades since Dennis Tito journeyed to the International Space Station, eight private citizens have paid the $20 million fee to travel to space. Space Adventures suggests that this number could increase fifteen-fold by 2020. These figures do not include other private space agencies such as Virgin Galactic, which as of 2014 has sold approximately 700 tickets priced at $200,000 or $250,000 dollars each and has accepted more than $80 million in deposits.