Image: Soyuz craft
NASA
A Russian Soyuz crew capsule approaches the international space station for docking in October. Two paying passengers have signed up to take the same route in the next two years, Space Adventures announced Tuesday.
By Alan Boyle Science editor
msnbc.com

Dec. 16, 2003 - Two Americans have signed contracts to become the next paying passengers in space, and two more spots for a Russian rocket trip to the international space station are now on the market, the head of the company that brokered the deal said Tuesday.

The two would-be passengers, whose names are being withheld, have agreed to pay up to $20 million each for eight- to 10-day trips into orbit. The plan calls for one to go up in late 2004, the other in 2005.

"One of them found us, and the other one we recruited — we brought concepts to them," Eric Anderson, president and chief executive officer of Virginia-based Space Adventures, told MSNBC.com. "Ultimately, it's always their decision. You can't 'sell' someone a spaceflight. They have to want to do it."

One of the two is a 38-year-old male Manhattan real estate developer, Reuters reported. Anderson declined to provide details about the other. But he said both would-be passengers planned to do more than just enjoy the ride: "They're both interested in carrying out mission programs," he told MSNBC.com.

Long road ahead
Further details about the passengers would be released in early 2004, Anderson said. Although contracts have been signed with Space Adventures, both customers still have to fulfill Russian requirements, go through months of training and win approval from the partners in the 16-nation space station effort. The timing of the U.S. space shuttle fleet's return to flight in the wake of the Columbia tragedy also may affect the passengers' flight schedule.

"This is over a year away," Anderson said, explaining the dearth of detail.

The two space passengers would follow in the footsteps of California millionaire Dennis Tito and South African Internet tycoon Mark Shuttleworth; each paid millions to go to the space station in 2001 and 2002, respectively. Space Adventures handled arrangements for both of them.

Like Tito and Shuttleworth, the new passengers would ride a Russian Soyuz lifeboat to the space station, as part of the regular Soyuz rotation. With the grounding of the shuttles, the three-seat Soyuz capsules provide the only way to get back and forth from the space station. In the past, paying passengers have taken the "third seat" alongside two professional space travelers.

Most of the multimillion-dollar cost of a passenger ticket goes to building the crew capsules and rockets. The cash also helps boost the Russians’ overall space program.

"They've got to use those seats," Anderson said of the Russians. "They need the money."

More flights ahead
"The most important part of the story," Anderson said, "is that we have signed a contract with the Russians for the other two flights."

Two additional seats would be available in 2006 and 2007, he said.

"It's at our discretion," Anderson said. Back in June, Space Adventures announced it was seeking two customers for a special Soyuz flight that it called the SA-1 private mission — and Anderson said that was still an option for the post-2005 opportunities.

"We have to coordinate that with what is most beneficial for the Russians," Anderson said.

© 2003 MSNBC Interactive. This report includes information from Reuters.

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