The third private citizen to fly in space, American millionaire Gregory Olsen, says he's excited about the future of space travel — especially if it means he might have another chance to fly.
Olsen visited the International Space Station in October 2005 as a paying passenger aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. His ticket, which cost about $20 million at the time, was brokered with the Russian Federal Space Agency through the Virginia-based firm Space Adventures.
A scientist and entrepreneur, Olsen founded the Princeton, New Jersey-based optics firm Sensors Unlimited. The sale of that company in 2000 largely financed his later space trip. Olsen recounts his long road to space in a new memoir, "By Any Means Necessary," published by his new company, GHO Ventures.
"I'd go in a heartbeat," Olsen said of a second space visit. Of particular interest would be an orbital trip around the moon on a Soyuz spacecraft. No space tourist has yet traveled beyond low-Earth orbit, but Space Adventures is working on offering such an excursion.
"I just have to sell another company" to afford the trip, Olsen said. And private space travel to orbit may be getting more expensive.
Pricier space seats
With private seats for orbital trips to the space station in short supply and increased production demands, the price for flights similar to Olsen's voyage are now going for a steeper price.
The seventh space tourist to fly, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, paid a reported $35 million for his 12-day trip to space in October 2009. "It looks like I got a bargain," Olsen told SPACE.com.
For now, orbital spaceflights have been the bulk of space tourism offerings, though a number of private companies are hoping to offer suborbital joy rides in the next few years at a cost of up to $200,000 or so. [10 fantasy spaceships becoming real.]
If Olsen does manage to make it back to orbit, Olsen won't be the first repeat customer for Space Adventures. The fifth-ever space tourist, American billionaire Charles Simonyi, revisited the space station on a second mission in March 2009, two years after his first flight. Both trips were booked through Space Adventures.
Simonyi paid $35 million for his second space tourist trek. His first trip in 2007 cost about $25 million.
Private space travel's bright future
Olsen said he is eager to see how the future of U.S. human spaceflight plays out.
President Barack Obama has proposed a new direction for NASA in which commercial companies take the lead in ferrying astronauts to low-Earth orbit, while the space agency focuses on going to an asteroid and to Mars.
Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), a California-based company among the first tapped to provide commercial space cargo delivery services for NASA, successfully launched the first of its new private rockets – called Falcon 9 – into orbit on Friday. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets are built to launch the company's capsule-shaped Dragon vehicles into space on unmanned cargo missions, though the company hopes to modify them to carry people as well.
"I'm really glad they're pushing for the commercialization," Olsen said.
He could easily envision a commercial taxi service going to the International Space Station, and said he would like to see the industry take things even further.
"I'm a moon fan," he said. "This mission that Space Adventures is planning – that's all possible. The moon could eventually go to the private sector too."
The spaceflyer said he reminisces about his space journey almost every day. "It'll be five years in October and not a day goes by when I don't think about it."
The experience was truly life-changing, he added.
"When you fly over the Earth, there's no sign of life," Olsen said. "There's nothing to indicate that there's anything going on there – occasional jet trails, but other than that it just looks serene, perfect. When I was up there I just said, 'Wow, I'm the luckiest guy in the world to be able to see this.'"