CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — When it comes to complaining about poor exchange rates for the U.S. dollar, American tourists traveling to Europe have nothing on tourists headed into space.
The cost of flying to the international space station aboard a Russian Soyuz spaceship has increased from $25 million earlier this year to between $30 million and $40 million for trips planned in 2008 and 2009.
"It's mostly because of the fallen dollar," Eric Anderson, president and chief executive officer of Space Adventures, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. His company brokers the trips with Russia's space agency.
A U.S. dollar currently is worth about 25 1/2 Russian rubles, compared with 32 rubles in 2002.
Five space tourists have paid $20 million to $25 million to visit the space station via the Soyuz vehicles through trips arranged by Space Adventures. The company announced Wednesday that two more Soyuz seats have been purchased for tourists to fly in the fall of 2008 and the spring of 2009.
Anderson said the space tourists flying in the two new seats likely would be an American and an Asian, but he offered no further details on Wednesday.
Space Adventures said the identities of the would-be fliers would be announced sometime in the next few weeks. "We have finalized the contracts with those who will fly on future seats, but we are always willing to speak to multiple individuals for a specific seat and encourage other interested parties to step forward and contact us, because the most willing and committed ultimately gets to go first," Anderson said in Wednesday's written announcement.
In May, Anderson told MSNBC.com that the next space passenger would be an American male. He also said the flight would mark "another first." That was a reference to April's flight of software executive Charles Simonyi, the first billionaire to go into space.
Prospective space tourists must put down a 20 percent deposit, pass physical examinations and later undergo training at a Russian space facility.
About a dozen prospective space tourists are in the process of reserving flights to the space station, even as the number of available seats on the three-man Soyuz vehicles is likely to diminish after space shuttles are grounded in 2010.
NASA is going to rely on the Soyuz vehicles to deliver astronauts to the space station between the end of the shuttle program in 2010 and the expected first manned flight in 2015 of the next-generation spacecraft, Orion, which NASA hopes takes astronauts back to the moon by 2020. Additionally, the three-member space station crew, consisting of U.S. astronauts and Russian cosmonauts, is expected to double in size in 2009.
"We're certainly working out ways to get more seats," Anderson said. "With the competition at that point, it becomes more difficult."
This report includes information from The Associated Press and MSNBC.com.
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