Spaceflight enthusiasts eager for a taste of the cosmonaut lifestyle can now vie for a new experience: backup space tourist.
The Virginia-based tourism firm Space Adventures is offering a $3 million ticket for the backup seat on an October 2008 flight to the international space station. Sitting in the prime seat is Texas-based computer game developer Richard Garriott, who is paying about $30 million to ride a Russian Soyuz rocket to the orbital laboratory next fall.
Space Adventures officials announced the new ticket Thursday and told Space.com that it is the first time a backup crew-member slot is available as an official product. The selected backup crewmember will be an active participant in Garriott's mission and be featured in a documentary TV series, the space tourism firm said.
"I want to involve as many people as possible in my mission and this is one of the most innovative ways to do so," Garriott said in the announcement. "Not only will the backup crewmember be certified as a fully-trained cosmonaut and be named to a mission crew, a distinction that less than 1,000 people have ever had; but, our combined participation is a step forward in the progression of our expansion into the cosmos."
Space Adventures is currently the only firm offering tickets to Earth orbit aboard Soyuz spacecraft launched by Russia's Federal Space Agency. Garriott will be the sixth paying visitor to the ISS and the first child of a U.S. astronaut to fly in space. His father, former NASA astronaut Owen Garriott, flew aboard the U.S. Skylab space station and the space shuttle Columbia.
The concept of a backup space tourist is not new.
Last year, American entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari served as the backup for Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto. When medical issues prevented Enomoto from launching to the ISS in September 2006, Ansari stepped into his seat as prime private spaceflyer.
"If I had not trained as a backup crew member in 2006, then I would never have flown to space that year," said Ansari, who became the world's fourth space tourist and the first woman to pay for an orbital flight. "The training was exhilarating and ultimately prepared me for my flight which I'm thankful for."
Space Adventures CEO Eric Anderson said the $3 million price tag for a backup space tourist slot can also be used as credit for a future orbital or even lunar spaceflight.
"Participation as an official backup crew member is a once in a lifetime opportunity for an individual, or a company sponsoring an individual, to experience first-hand how our clients train for spaceflight," Anderson said in a statement, adding that the ticket price includes spaceflight training costs and accommodations at Russia's Star City-based cosmonaut center.
Garriott will launch to the space station with the orbital laboratory's Expedition 18 crew and return with the outgoing Expedition 17 shift. He will be the first space tourist going to the station since American entrepreneur Charles Simonyi's April 2007 flight and will begin training in January.
Garriott is chronicling his spaceflight training and mission at his personal Web site: www.richardinspace.com