January 12, 2011

Russia Reopening Soyuz Ships For Space Tourism

Space Adventures said on Wednesday that Russia will reopen its Soyuz space ships to paying tourists in 2013 after a hiatus since 2009.

The Virginia-based company who organizes the trips with Russia's space agency said in a statement that from 2013, three space tourists per year will be able to book seats on Soyuz flights to the International Space Station (ISS).

It said that the company has signed an agreement with the Russian space agency and Energia, the state-owned company that designs the Soyuz capsule, to offer the commercial flights.

It quoted the president of Energia, Vitaly Lopota, as saying that: "We are very pleased to continue space tourism."

The company said that flights will become possible in 2013 when Russia plans to raise its production of Soyuz capsules from four to five per year in a move that will allow it to increase the number of flights to five per year.

Canadian Guy Laliberte, the billionaire founder of Cirque du Soleil, was the last space tourist and he returned to Earth in October 2009 after an 11-day flight.

Denis Tito, the first space tourist, traveled to the ISS in 2001.  There have been seven space tourists that have taken part in missions all together.

Laliberte did not reveal the cost of his ticket, but U.S. software pioneer Charles Simonyi paid $35 million for his trip.

Russia has since limited flights on its cramped three-seater Soyuz spaceship to professionals only since Laliberte's return.

NASA plans to send its Endeavour shuttle into space for its last scheduled flight in April this year, which is when Russia's Soyuz ships will be the only way to reach the ISS.


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