Google Co-Founder Books a Space Flight
Space tourists are getting their own ride. Space Adventures, a Virginia company that arranges passage for wealthy explorers to ride on Russian Soyuz rockets to the International Space Station, plans to buy a Soyuz flight all its own in 2011, with the option of buying more.
A new investor is likely to occupy one of the two available seats on Space Adventures’ 2011 flight: Sergey Brin, a co-founder of Google. He made a $5 million investment in the company that will serve as a deposit on a future flight.
Space Adventures plans to announce the flight and Mr. Brin’s participation in a news conference Wednesday morning at the Explorers Club in New York.
Mr. Brin, who is president of technology at Google, said in a Space Adventures statement, “I am a big believer in the exploration and commercial development of the space frontier, and am looking forward to the possibility of going into space.”
His company is a sponsor of the Google Lunar X Prize, a $25 million competition to land an unmanned craft on the moon.
Space Adventures, the only company that sends tourists to space, has sent five of them so far. But its continued ability to provide these orbital experiences has been a subject of speculation recently. In April, Vitaly Lopota, the president of Energia, the Russian spacecraft company, said that he was no fan of space tourism and that his nation flew private explorers to make up for financial shortfalls.
“We have built the I.S.S. not for space tourists but for serving the needs of the people of Earth,” he said.
Anatoly Perminov, the head of the Russian space agency, has said repeatedly that the seats for tourists could disappear in 2010, when the size of the station crew expands to six from three and requires more of the available seats on the Soyuz.
Space Adventures has seats reserved for flights to the space station this October and April 2009. Clients have paid $20 million to $40 million for their trips. The company did not disclose what the private flight will cost.
In the past, the Space Adventures spot was a spare seat on a Soyuz mission that was headed for the station anyway. For the private Soyuz mission, Space Adventures will book two seats on the three-seat spacecraft, with a Russian commander taking the other seat. The mission will be scheduled so as not to interfere with the official flights of astronauts to and from the station, the company said.
More important, said Tom Jones, a former astronaut who is an unpaid adviser to Space Adventures, the passengers will have greater control over their flight and not simply be “piggybacking” on a government-sponsored flight. They could, for example, have more freedom to carry experiments of their own aboard the Soyuz, which has little cargo capacity, nearly all of it reserved for station business.
“From a passenger point of view, you wouldn’t be a fifth wheel on the flight to the space station,” he said. “It’s a move toward a more mature commercial space travel industry.”
Eric Anderson, the chief executive of Space Adventures, said that the deal meant “we become a space mission company, not simply a seller of seats.” Future missions could take travelers to other destinations like privately run space stations, he said.
The move to a purchased mission is “a different paradigm,” said Dr. John Logsdon, the director of the space policy institute at George Washington University, and could help NASA determine what it ought to be paying for its own passage to the station aboard the Soyuz craft.