“Everything I thought was wrong. Everything I expected to see was wrongIt was with these words that William Shatner recently told about his space trip to the American magazine variety. On October 13, 2021, the Star Trek star was actually part of the crew that flew to space aboard the ship New Shepard from Blue Origin.
At the age of 90, he thus became the oldest man to travel in space, beating John Glenn’s record in particular. Next to him were three other people: the Australian engineer and pilot Chris Boshuizen, the American businessman Glen de Vries and the engineer and vice president of flight operations in New Shepard Audrey Powers. It was the craft’s second manned flight after an initial launch in July 2021 with Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos on board.
Since then, four other flights have taken place, the last in August 2022, with crews of six amateur astronauts in orbit. In July 2021, shortly before Blue Origin, another company made its first tourist flight: Virgin Galactic founded by the British billionaire Richard Branson, who himself was one of the ship’s first crew. VSS Unity.
Although these events marked the beginning of a new era of space tourism, the concept is not new. And several tourists had already previously had the chance to fly into Earth’s orbit as real astronauts. Including on board the International Space Station. It was on board the ISS that the first tourist orbit flight took place.
Who is the first space tourist?
The title of the first space tourist belongs to the American businessman and millionaire Dennis Tito. On April 28, 2001, he actually became the first private traveler to stay on the ISS thanks to the company Space Adventures. It took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with cosmonauts Yuri Baturin and Talgat Musabayev before docking at the station and staying there for seven days, completing 128 orbits of Earth. Ticket price: $20 million.
After Dennis Tito, several other wealthy enthusiasts have made similar trips to the ISS. In April 2002, South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth followed in his footsteps. Before space tourist launches were put on hold due to the February 2003 crash of Space Shuttle Columbia, which, along with its crew, disintegrated while returning to Earth.
Flights finally resumed in October 2005 with American engineer Gregory Olsen aboard the ISS also at an estimated cost of $20 million. But not only. In addition to paying for their ticket, all tourists had to train for many months to earn the right to board the station.
Until 2009, four others followed thanks to Space Adventures: Anousheh Ansari, who became the first Iranian in space and the first female space tourist, the Hungarian-American Charles Simonyi, the American Richard Garriott and the Canadian Guy Laliberté. The latter, for example, paid $35 million for his ticket.
The first all-civilian crew
After NASA’s shuttles were retired in 2011, the space tourism program was again halted. It took until 2019 for the US agency to announce the reopening of the ISS to private travelers, but flights did not immediately resume. It was finally in 2021 that civilians found their way back to space with the Inspiration4 mission from Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.
Commanded by the American Jared Isaacman in September 2021, the mission carried three people selected by the latter in a Crew Dragon spacecraft for a period of three days. This is the first time that a manned flight has not been on its way to a space station since 2009, and that it consisted of an all-civilian crew and not from any government agency.
⋙ An unprecedented crew of tourists will fly to the International Space Station
The year 2021 also marked the return of Space Adventures with a flight that launched two Japanese, Yusaku Maezawa and Yozo Hirano, to the ISS. In April 2022, another privately funded mission, Axiom Mission 1, took place to the station. This time it was operated by the company Axiom Space and put a crew of three tourists and a retired astronaut aboard a SpaceX Dragon ship.
The operation lasted 17 days and ended on April 25, 2022. An initial success that Axiom Space intends to repeat, which hopes to eventually offer two private flights to the ISS per year.
Who will be the next space tourists?
Several missions have already been announced for the coming years. By the end of 2022, the vessel was New Shepard was set to leave with a new crew formed by Chinese billionaire Justin Sun. On the Virgin Galactic side, a new flight is planned for 2023 with three Italian passengers in particular, while an Axiom Space 2 mission is planned for the same year with a crew led by American astronaut Peggy Whitson.
Over the past twenty years, other projects have appeared in space tourism, but sometimes they have not come to fruition. However, these efforts have supported and strengthened the actors’ desire to open space for private travelers. And not just orbiting the Earth. Indeed, projects are being developed to allow tourists to carry out missions to the Moon.
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