Russia's space agency Roskosmos announced that it would stop giving free rides to US astronauts beginning in 2006. US space shuttles have been grounded since February of 2003, when the shuttle Columbia burned up on re-entry and they have been relying on the Russian workhorse spacecraft for transportation to the orbital outpost.
Roskosmos is hoping to expand its space tourism program; two people are currently under consideration for flights on a Russian space craft to the International Space Station. So far, two passengers have paid $20 million (US) for tourist trips to the ISS aboard Soyuz craft.
Passengers to distant celestial bodies in science fiction stories have long been used to fare-based space travel. In his 1953 novel Second Foundation, Isaac Asimov not only sells tickets to far-flung solar systems, but uses automatic ticket machines to boot:
And the voice that cut in on her was a thunderclap that iced the scream in her throat into a voiceless slash.
"Look, miss," it said, irritably, "are you using the ticket machine or are you just standing there?"
It was the first she realized that she was standing in front of a ticket machine. You put a high denomination bill into the clipper which sank out of sight. You pressed the button below your destination and a ticket came out together with the correct change as determined by an electronic scanning device that never made a mistake. It was a very ordinary thing and there is no cause for anyone to stand before it for five minutes. Arcadia plunged a two-hundred credit into the clipper, and was suddenly aware of the button labeled "Trantor." Trantor, dead capital of the dead Empire - the planet on which she was born. She pressed it in a dream. Nothing happened, except that the red letters flicked on and off, reading 172.18- 172.18- 172.18-
It was the amount she was short. Another two-hundred credit. The ticket was spit out towards her. It came loose when she touched it, and the change tumbled out afterward.
In addition to avoiding the danger, noise and environmental hazards of rocketry, the space elevator would make possible quite astonishing reductions in the cost of all space missions. Electricity is cheap, and it would require only about a hundred dollars' worth to take one person to orbit. And the round trip would cost about ten dollars, as most of the energy would be recovered on the downward journey! (Of course, catering and inflight movies would put up the price of the ticket. Would you believe a thousand dollars to CEO and back?)
The head of Roskosmos, Anatoly Perminov, stated that a barter system would also be acceptable. Read more at Russia to end free space rides for US Astronauts.
(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission from Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction.)