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 2017 that it is planning on sending two space tourists on a lunar free-return trajectory aboard its Dragon V2 spacecraft in 2018. The spacecraft will be launched by the Falcon Heavy rocket.[1]

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.

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 have been sold to paying spaceflight participants.[2][3] Orbital tourist flights were set to resume in 2015 but the one planned was postponed indefinitely and none have occurred since 2009.[4]

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".[5]


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) took advantage of the program as well.

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.[6][7]

In 1984, Charles D. Walker became the first non-government astronaut to fly, with his employer McDonnell Douglas paying $40,000 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 $25,000 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.[8]

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.[9]: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.

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. For $28 million, Toyohiro Akiyama was flown in 1990 to Mir with the eighth crew and returned a week later with the seventh crew. 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.[10] 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.

Space tourism

Humans have always looked to the stars, and have always wanted to travel beyond the confines of the Earth. The first actual space flight took place in the twentieth century. However, the origins of space tourism can be traced to much further back than that. Space tourism originally began with the movement of astronomical observers from one place to another in order to better view astronomical phenomena like eclipses and comets.

Tourists still travel to the Kennedy Space Center (the headquarters of NASA), in Cape Canaveral, Florida every time a launch takes place, in order to view it up close. Russia also allows tourists to visit the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center at the Zhukovsky Air Base at Star City[11]

Museums are also an important part of the terrestrial space tourism experience. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC houses a large number of space artifacts and presents visitors with a large variety of space-related experiences. Other examples of space museums are the San Diego Air & Space Museum and Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace in Paris.

Orbital space tourism

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 to de-orbit Mir was made, Tito managed to switch his trip to the International Space Station (ISS) through a deal between MirCorp and US-based Space Adventures, Ltd., despite strong opposition from senior figures at NASA; from the beginning of the ISS expeditions, NASA stated it wasn't interested in space guests.[12] Nonetheless, Dennis Tito visited the ISS on April 28, 2001, and stayed for seven days, becoming the first "fee-paying" space tourist. He was followed in 2002 by South African computer millionaire Mark Shuttleworth. The third was Gregory Olsen in 2005, who was trained as a scientist and whose company produced specialist high-sensitivity cameras. Olsen planned to use his time on the ISS to conduct a number of experiments, in part to test his company's products. Olsen had planned an earlier flight, but had to cancel for health reasons. The Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Committee On Science of the House of Representatives held on June 26, 2001 reveals the shifting attitude of NASA towards paying space tourists wanting to travel to the ISS. The hearing's purpose was to, "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".[13] The subcommittee report was interested in evaluating Dennis Tito's extensive training and his experience in space as a nonprofessional astronaut.

By 2007, space tourism was thought to be one of the earliest markets that would emerge for commercial spaceflight.[14]:11 However, as of 2018 this private exchange market has emerged very slowly and frequent commercial space flight is still in development.

Space Adventures is the only company that has sent paying passengers to space.[15][16] 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.

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. On July 26, 2005, Space Shuttle Discovery (mission STS-114) marked the shuttle's return to space. Consequently, in 2006, space tourism was resumed. On September 18, 2006, an Iranian American businesswoman named Anousheh Ansari became the fourth space tourist (Soyuz TMA-9).[17]) On April 7, 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–April 2009. Canadian Guy Laliberté became the next space tourist in September 2009 aboard Soyuz TMA-16. The British singer Sarah Brightman initiated plans (costing a reported $52 million) and participated in preliminary training in early 2015, expecting to then fly (and to perform while in orbit) in September 2015, but in May 2015 she postponed the plans indefinitely.[4][18][19]

List of flown space tourists

No. Space tourist Photo Nationality Year Duration of flight Flight Amount paid (USD) Source of wealth
1 Dennis Tito Dennis Tito.jpg  United States 2001 8 days (Apr 28 – May 6) Launch: Soyuz TM-32
Return: Soyuz TM-31
$20 million (estimated)[20] Investment management
(Wilshire Associates)
2 Mark Shuttleworth Mark Shuttleworth 2.jpg  South Africa
 United Kingdom
2002 11 days (April 25 – May 5) Launch: Soyuz TM-34
Return: Soyuz TM-33
$20 million (estimated)[21] Internet security certificates
3 Gregory Olsen Gregory Olsen.jpg  United States 2005 11 days (October 1 – 11) Launch: Soyuz TMA-7
Return: Soyuz TMA-6
$20 million (estimated)[22] Optoelectronic sensors
(Sensors Unlimited, Inc.)
4 Anousheh Ansari Anousheh Ansari.jpg  United States
2006 12 days (September 18 – 29) Launch: Soyuz TMA-9
Return: Soyuz TMA-8
$20 million (estimated)[23] VoIP software
(Telecom Technologies, Inc.)
5 Charles Simonyi Charles simonyi.jpg  United States
2007 15 days (April 7 – 21) Launch: Soyuz TMA-10
Return: Soyuz TMA-9
$25 million (estimated)[24] Desktop software
(Microsoft Office)
2009 14 days (March 26 – April 8) Launch: Soyuz TMA-14
Return: Soyuz TMA-13
$35 million (estimated)[24]
6 Richard Garriott[25] Richard garriott july 2008.jpg  United States
 United Kingdom
2008 12 days (October 12 – 23) Launch: Soyuz TMA-13
Return: Soyuz TMA-12
$30 million (estimated)[26] Video games
(Origin Systems)
7 Guy Laliberté Guy Laliberte WPT.jpg  Canada 2009 11 days (September 30 – October 11) Launch: Soyuz TMA-16
Return: Soyuz TMA-14
$40 million (estimated)[27] Performance art
(Cirque du Soleil)

Proposed orbital ventures

Several plans have been proposed for using a space station as a hotel:

  • American motel tycoon Robert Bigelow has acquired the designs for inflatable space habitats from the Transhab program abandoned by NASA. His company, Bigelow Aerospace, has already launched two first inflatable habitat modules. The first, named Genesis I, was launched July 12, 2006. The second test module, Genesis II, was launched June 28, 2007. Both Genesis habitats remain in orbit as of December 2017. The BA 330, an expandable habitation module with 330 cubic meters of internal space, has a launch contract aboard a Vulcan rocket which is the only rocket under development with sufficient performance and a large enough payload fairing. It is aimed to boost it to low lunar orbit to act as a lunar depot by the end of 2022.[29]
  • In 2004, Bigelow Aerospace established a competition called America's Space Prize, which offered a $50 million prize to the first US company to create a reusable spacecraft capable of carrying passengers to a Nautilus space station. The prize expired in January 2010 without anyone making a serious effort to win it.[30]
  • The Space Island Group have set out plans for their Space Island Project, and plans on having 20,000 people on their "space island" by 2020, with the number of people doubling for each decade.[31]

Lunar space tourism

In February 2017, Elon Musk announced that substantial deposits from two individuals had been received by SpaceX for a Moon loop flight using a free return trajectory and that this could happen as soon as late 2018.[32] Musk said that the cost of the mission would be "comparable" to that of sending an astronaut to the International Space Station, about $70 million US dollars in 2017.[33] In February 2018, Elon Musk announced the Falcon Heavy rocket would not be used for crewed missions, likely forgoing SpaceX's 2018 lunar tourism mission plans.[34][35]

Sub-orbital space tourism

No suborbital space tourism has occurred yet, 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).[36] 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.[37]


  • Blue Origin is developing the New Shepard reusable suborbital launch system specifically to enable short-duration space tourism.
  • On October 4, 2004, SpaceShipOne, designed by Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites, won the $10,000,000 X Prize, which was designed to be won by the first private company who could reach and surpass an altitude of 100 km (62 mi) twice within two weeks. The altitude is beyond the Kármán Line, the arbitrarily defined boundary of space.[38] The first flight was flown by Michael Melvill on June 21, 2004, to a height of 100 km (62 mi), making him the first commercial astronaut.[39] The prize-winning flight was flown by Brian Binnie, which reached a height of 112.0 km (69.6 mi), breaking the X-15 record.[40]
  • Virgin Galactic, headed by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group, hopes to be the first to offer regular suborbital spaceflights to paying passengers, aboard a fleet of five SpaceShipTwo-class spaceplanes. The first of these spaceplanes, VSS Enterprise, was intended to commence its first commercial flights in spring 2015, and tickets were on sale at a price of $200,000 (later raised to $250,000). However, the company suffered a considerable setback when the Enterprise broke up over the Mojave Desert during a test flight in October 2014. Over 700 tickets had been sold prior to the accident.[41] A second spaceplane, VSS Unity, has begun testing.[42]
  • XCOR Aerospace was developing a suborbital vehicle called Lynx until development was halted in May 2016.[43] The Lynx will take off from a runway under rocket power. Unlike SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo, Lynx will not require a mothership. Lynx is designed for rapid turnaround, which will enable it to fly up to four times per day. Because of this rapid flight rate, Lynx has fewer seats than SpaceShipTwo, carrying only one pilot and one spaceflight participant on each flight. XCOR expect to roll out the first Lynx prototype and begin flight tests in 2015, but as of late 2017, XCOR was unable to complete their prototype development and filed for bankruptcy.[44]
    • Citizens in Space, formerly the Teacher in Space Project, is a project of the United States Rocket Academy. Citizens in Space combines citizen science with citizen space exploration. The goal is to fly citizen-science experiments and citizen explorers (who travel free) who will act as payload operators on suborbital space missions. By 2012, Citizens in Space had acquired a contract for 10 suborbital flights with XCOR Aerospace and expected to acquire additional flights from XCOR and other suborbital spaceflight providers in the future. In 2012 Citizens in Space reported they had begun training three citizen astronaut candidates and would select seven additional candidates over the next 12 to 14 months.[45]
    • Space Expedition Corporation was preparing to use the Lynx for "Space Expedition Curaçao", a commercial flight from Hato Airport on Curaçao, and planned to start commercial flights in 2014. The costs were $95,000 each.[46][47]
  • Armadillo Aerospace was developing a two-seat vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) rocket called Hyperion, which will be marketed by Space Adventures.[48] Hyperion uses a capsule similar in shape to the Gemini capsule. The vehicle will use a parachute for descent but will probably use retrorockets for final touchdown, according to remarks made by Armadillo Aerospace at the Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in February 2012. The assets of Armadillo Aerospace were sold to Exos Aerospace and while SARGE is continuing to be developed, it is unclear whether Hyperion is still being developed.
  • EADS Astrium, a subsidiary of European aerospace giant EADS, announced its space tourism project on June 13, 2007.[49]
  • Orion Span plans to launch a "luxury space hotel", named Aurora Station, into orbit in 2021.[50]


Under the Outer Space Treaty signed in 1967, the launch operator's nationality and the launch site's location determine which country is responsible for any damages occurred from a launch.[51]

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".[52] However, countries have the right to freely explore the Moon and any resources collected are property of that country when they return.

United States

In December 2005, the US government released a set of proposed rules for space tourism.[53] 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.[54] This is in accordance with the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act passed by Congress in 2004.[55]

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.[56]

Environmental effects

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.[57] 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%.[58] 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.[57]

Education and advocacy

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.

Classes in space tourism are currently taught at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York,[59] and Keio University in Japan.[60]

Attitudes toward space tourism

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.[61]

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".[62]

Space Race television show

As of October 2013, NBC News and Virgin Galactic have come together to create a new reality television show titled Space Race. The show "will follow contestants as they compete to win a flight into space aboard Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane. It is not to be confused with the Children's Space TV show called "Space Racers"[63]


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".[64] Dennis Tito has asked to be known as an "independent researcher",[citation needed] and Mark Shuttleworth described himself as a "pioneer of commercial space travel".[65] Gregory Olsen prefers "private researcher",[66] and Anousheh Ansari prefers the term "private space explorer".[17] 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."[67] 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."[68]

"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.

Development of Commercial Space Flight Vehicles

Konstantin Tsiolko wrote a paper titled Investigation of World Spaces by Reactive Vehicles in 1903, developing the rocket equations, which eventually led to the development of spaceships like Sputnik I. Vostok, the spaceship used by Yuri Gagarin on his first flight in space, was also an early spaceship model. Early space capsules such as these had little to no control once they were in orbit and could only carry one person at a time.[69] As the technology improved maneuverability of the space crafts increased.

Along with the development of human spaceflight, commercial spaceflight was developing as well. For Orbital space tourism, the Russian Soyuz rocket and the International Space Station are already present systems of commercial space flight. Systems like the Space Taxi system are under development by the USA[70]

The Soyuz Rocket

The first commercial orbital spaceflight was contracted by Mir Corp3. It consisted of the Soyuz rocket and spacecraft3. The first flight of the Soyuz rocket took place in 1966 and the first spacecraft was launched in 1967. Since 2001, the model used for human spaceflight is the Soyuz – FG, which had 36 successful space flights from 2001 to 2013.[70]

The Soyuz spacecraft is used to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Nine commercial space travelers have also used the spacecraft for trips into orbit. The ticket prices for a Soyuz ride has risen from 20 million dollars to 60 million dollars in the 2010s.[69]

Expected economic growth

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.[71] 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.[72] 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.[73]

See also


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Further reading

External links