March 4, 2010

Russia To Halt Space Tours

As NASA looks toward the retirement of its Shuttle program later this year, Russia announced Wednesday it will halt its space tourism program and concentrate on getting professional crews to the International Space Station once the U.S. space program folds, according to a recent Reuters report.

Russia, which already sends crews to the ISS aboard its single-use three-man ships, will double the number of its manned missions to four this year to gear up for the extra crews it will be transporting once NASA retires its shuttle fleet at the end of the year.

"This year will see the last shuttle mission, and from this moment Russia will not only become the sole nation sending crews, but ... also the only country ensuring the crew's safety," Sergei Krikalyov, the head of the Russian Cosmonauts' Training Center, told reporters in Star City outside Moscow.

"As for (space) tourists ... there are now going to be six crew members, and it will be impossible to ferry a tourist each time there is a new crew shift in orbit, and for some time there will be a break in these journeys," Krikalyov said.

Russia plans to launch the first of its four planned Soyuz missions on April 2. The first launch will carry a U.S. and Russian crew to the ISS which already has a team from U.S., Russia, and Japan, that has been on the outpost since December.

Krikalyov did not offer a timeline for when space tourism would be picked up again, although he did say it would depend on how long it takes NASA to build a new space vehicle to replace its Shuttle. He said that the U.S. targets 2014 as the deadline, but there could be many delays.

"The talk will definitely be about years, but it's hard to say now, whether it's going to be one year, two years or five years," Krikalyov said.

Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberte was the seventh and last civilian to make the space journey. He briefly visited the ISS aboard the Soyuz last October after paying $35 million for a seat.


Image Caption: A Russian Progress resupply vehicle docked to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA


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