May 13, 2005

Group Courting Japanese As Next Space Tourists

TOKYO (AFP) -- Dozens of Japanese people, many in their senior years, have voiced interest after US and British firms began scouting for adventurous tourists who want to blast off into space, companies said.

Club Tourism, a Tokyo-based company, on Thursday offered to take seven Japanese people in a rocket in 2008 to enjoy 25 minutes in outer space, with each one pitching in 200,000 dollars.

Within a day it received some 40 inquiries, a company official said.

"Many of the inquiries are from people in their 50s or older," she said.

The company is tied up with Virgin Galactic, part of British tycoon Richard Branson's Virgin group, which aims to build a private spaceship to make space tourism a more affordable possibility.

Space Adventures, the only company which can boast putting a private passenger into space, this week opened a branch in Tokyo. Its only other offices are in the United States, where it is based, and in Russia, whose space program it uses.

Space Adventures organized the first space trips for paying customers: American businessman Dennis Tito in 2001 and South African Mark Shuttleworth in 2002 who both went on Russian rockets for a 20 million-dollar price tag.

The company expected to find a ready market of customers in Japan, the world's second largest economy.

"We have seen a trend in the last 18 months of a growing interest in private space exploration from Japan," Space Adventure chief executive Eric Anderson said in a statement.

"To meet that demand, we're opening a Tokyo office to respond to the thousands of requests we've received," he said.

It cited a study by the University of Tokyo which found that 80 percent of Japanese people up to age 40 wanted to go into space and 30 percent of Japanese in their 60s and 70s also hoped to.

"I'm already envisioning what the Earth from space will look like," the company quoted Okubo Shuichi of central Aichi province as saying.


On the Net:

Club Tourism

Space Adventures