November 26, 2009

No More Tourist Trips To ISS: Russia

A top Russian space official said Thursday that there is no more room for space tourists hoping to fly to the International Space Station, The Associated Press reported.

Sergei Krikalyov, the chief of the Cosmonaut Training Center, said since the space station's crew doubled to six people earlier this year, there is no longer room for tourists who pay tens of millions of dollars for a trip on a Russian spacecraft from Earth.

After next year's planned retirement of the U.S. shuttle fleet, Russia's Soyuz spacecraft will be the only way to get to the station.

Since only three people can ride aboard each Soyuz craft, Russia will now make four, rather than two, launches each year to allow for crew rotation -"“ which has recently doubled.

Two Soyuz ships will have to be permanently docked at the station to be used in case any emergency involving the 6-person ISS crew.

Last month, the latest space tourist and Canadian Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte returned to Earth after a stint as the seventh paying space tourist aboard the station.

Laliberte, the first professional artist to fly to space, paid $35 million for a 10-day trip to the ISS.

Krikalyov told reporters at the training center in Star City outside Moscow that when there was a spare place, the space tourist could fly together with the main crew and return back with them.

"Now that we have switched to a six-person crew, there is no spare room. The situation will remain the same for the nearest flights," he added.

A crew including Russian Oleg Kotov, Soichi Noguchi of Japan and NASA astronaut Timothy J. Creamer Krikalyov is set to blast off for the station in late December.

The newly expanded ISS consists of 10 modules built by the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and the 18-nation European Space Agency.

In recent years, exclusively Russian and U.S. crewmembers had manned the ISS. But now its permanent crew will allow other nations to send their astronauts to the station.


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