Russia?s space agency chief has said that thrill-seeking millionaires won?t be able to buy tourist flights to the International Space Station after 2009, according to Russian news reports Wednesday.
Anatoly Perminov, director of Russia?s Federal Space Agency, reportedly told the daily newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta that 2009 is the last year in which space tourists will be able fly to space station due the lack of available seats on Soyuz spacecraft as the orbiting laboratory shifts to a larger, six-person crew later this year, according to the Russian news service Ria Novosti.
The International Space Station is slated to double its current three-person crew size in late May. Since 2001, six space tourists have visited the station by paying between $20 million and $30 million under deals brokered with Russia?s Federal Space Agency by the U.S. firm Space Adventures in Vienna, Va.
The next space tourist, American billionaire Charles Simonyi, is due to launch to the space station in March along with the orbiting laboratory?s new Expedition 19 crew.
Simonyi is paying a reported $35 million for what will be his second trip to the space station. He last visited the orbiting laboratory in April 2007 on a 13-day spaceflight that he paid more than $20 million for. Since then, ticket prices rose to about $30 million due to inflation, Space Adventures officials have said.
Simonyi?s second trip costing an extra $5 million beyond that due to his membership in Space Adventure?s Orbital Missions Explorers Circle program, an elite club of six people who have put the $5 million down in order to jump to the head of the line for available flights.
High-ranking Russian space officials and cosmonauts met with the Rossiiskaya Gazeta (or Russian Gazette) for a round table meeting on Jan. 15 to discuss the future of the nation?s manned spaceflight program, according to the Russian aerospace firm RSC Energia, which posted photos of the meeting to its Web site.
According to Ria Novosti, Perminov said that Simonyi and a Kazakh national will fly to the International Space Station this year, with the Kazakh spaceflyer to launch in October, aboard Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft. But the plan to double space station crews up to six astronauts will prevent future space tourists from finding room on regular Soyuz flights.
Last year, Space Adventures announced its plans to launch the first private Soyuz spaceflight to the space station. That mission, slated to launch in 2011, called for a crew of two paying passengers and a professional cosmonaut commander to fly to the International Space Station. Space Adventures officials were not immediately available for comment late Wednesday.
Ria Novosti also reported that Russia does not plan to cancel any of its planned launches to the space station this year. The Federal Space Agency is expected to launch additional crewed Soyuz capsules and unmanned Progress cargo ships to ferry astronauts and supplies to the orbiting laboratory.
"I hope that we'll cope,? the Russian news service quoted Perminov as saying. ?So far we are preparing to make four manned launches, not two, as previously planned, and send five, not four, freight modules into space.?
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