13 December 2000
News - Tourism (Good)
Plan for 7 Space Tourists
German TV show to fly 7 contestants to space station
by Patrick Collins
Space tv AG, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the German television production company Brainpool of Cologne, is reported to have made reservations for 7 flights in the Russian 'Soyuz' launch vehicle between 2002 and 2008 to allow selected people to visit the Russian sector of the International Space Station.

The company will run a TV series called "Space Commander", which will start recruiting candidates in late 2001, the selection process being the basis of the programmes in the series. It is estimated that 60,000 people will apply, from whom some 6,000 will initially be selected for fitness tests. The best 600 of these will then take part in quiz shows to find those with good 'general knowledge', from which a smaller number will undergo 'action training' such as sky-diving and simulated space flights. TV cameras will accompany the contestants through all of this, as well as through final training, launch, docking, their stay in the 'Russian sector' of the space station, return flight, landing - the whole works.

"Space Commander" will give a lot of attention to physical fitness requirements, which may unfortunately exclude some of the more interesting candidates. However, in order to fly aboard the Soyuz, even guests have to play an active role, which requires the ability to put up with severe conditions in the event of an accident, as well as speaking and understanding Russian. This may do some unnecessary harm to the cause of space tourism, since there will not be such strict requirements in the reusable passenger vehicles currently being designed, for example by Bristol Spaceplanes and the Japanese Rocket Society, which are featured here on Nasa's web-site.

On the other hand, a good effect of the series should be to put an end to the "Only the rich will get to go" complaint that is sometimes made about space tourism. Although the rich get the earlier opportunities to try any new service, as they did in the early days of aviation - the phrase "the jet set" is a memory of the late 1950s when international air travel was still exclusive - it's already clear that not even in the earlier stages of space tourism will only the rich get to go.

Space tv AG are confident that millions of people will become regular viewers of the series, since space travel is "the greatest adventure for a human". Quite so.

The technical side of the operation is to be handled by the company Astrium, the project having been initiated earlier by Hartmut Mueller of (then) Daimler-Benz Aerospace and Space Tours GmbH, whose pioneering efforts include running the 1st and 2nd International Symposium on Space Tourism (ISST) in Bremen in 1997 and 1999 (see link below).

It has long been said that, unlike the US, European or Japanese sectors of the 'International Space Station' (ISS), the Russian sector will be open for paid visits by members of the general public. Dennis Tito, who has a contract with MirCorp to visit the MIR space station, is apparently hoping to convert that into a visit to the partially-constructed space station in 2001 if MIR is ditched in the south Pacific in February 2001, as has been announced (though there have been contradictory statements).

It's going to be fascinating to see whether Russian plans for these visits work out. Government space agencies, led by NASA, are keen to preserve their monopoly on access to space, and will no doubt make as many objections as possible. However, it seems unlikely that the Russians would scrap MIR in favour of ISS unless they were absolutely sure they could use it for commercial purposes; they can't afford the 'luxury' of spending billions of dollars on an economically unprofitable space station, as other governments seem to feel they can.

Luckily, under democracy and capitalism, popular demand has a way of overcoming governments' inherent tendency to extend their control wherever they can. The competition that is now well underway between German and US tv companies to fly people to space is an extremely encouraging sign. How could either side acknowledge that it's been beaten by the other - when there's so much potential to outdo the other with better and more exotic activities? Once passenger travel to and from orbit is routinely available, which even Nasa has admitted is a straightforward development there's no limit to the size and scope of destinations that can be developed in orbit, and later on the Moon - as described in detail elsewhere in the Space Future site.

So governments are facing the last ditch of their monopoly of space travel. Having the pesky Mir space station, which actually threatened to jump-start orbital tourism, dropped into the ocean (at considerable danger to the public) instead of offering to boost it into a safe higher orbit where it would become of enormous historic value in the future, would be but another example of governments putting their political interests ahead of taxpayers' economic interests, which are to have a profitable space travel industry as soon as possible - as well as to preserve monuments of unique cultural and historic value.

So space agencies' next target is sure to be trying to prevent 'ordinary people' visiting the Russian sector of the space station. They would no doubt be worried about the possibility of members of their crew sneaking off to the bar in the Russian sector and enjoying themselves with such 'trivial' activities as Karaoke, TV quiz shows and other fun!

Space Future wishes ALL STRENGTH to MirCorp, Space tv AG and - the heroes of space democracy, the Russian government! - in their pioneering efforts to open space to ALL OF US.

To read more details about the Space tv AG project, see the Space Commander website and this Asia Daily News article.
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Patrick Collins 13 December 2000
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