Russian Space Tourism Company Eyes Flight Around The Moon With Upgraded Soyuz Spacecraft

A Japanese family, a filmmaker, and an astronaut walk into a room.

It sounds like the start of a joke, but it’s actually the latest bid in an effort to expand the space tourism industry with a trip into orbit and around the moon.

Russia’s S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation (RSC) Energia is partnering with U.S.-based Space Adventures to launch an eight-person expedition aboard an upgraded Soyuz spacecraft into Earth orbit around the moon.

Tickets aboard the upgraded Soyuz start at the sale price of $150 million per person and includes a trip into orbit and flight around the moon. The space tourism company already has eight people who have expressed interest in buying a seat including filmmaker James Cameron, Energia’s General Director Vladimir Solntsev told Sputnik News.

“We have a preliminary design for upgrading the Soyuz spacecraft, which was conceived with the possibility of organizing a Moon expedition in mind. The upgraded Soyuz will be able to carry out a short flight to the Moon, which will allow it to circle the Earth’s satellite.”

A Space Adventures spokesperson said the company has already attracted a substantial amount of interest for their tourist flight around the moon and the first one may be launched in 2020, according to Sputnik News.

“We are considering eight potential candidates, which are ready to pay for such an expedition. There is a Japanese family among them, for instance…Once we have a critical mass of confirmed applications for a trip around the Moon, we will be able to begin large-scale work.”

Russia first designed the Soyuz spacecraft in the 1960’s during the Soviet Union’s race for the moon; it went on to become the world’s most-used and longest-serving spacecraft.

It became the first spacecraft to offer space tourists flights to the International Space Station; in 2001 American Dennis Tito paid some $20 million to visit the station for eight days.

After NASA decommissioned the space shuttle in 2010, the Soyuz became the only spacecraft available to shuttle astronauts and supplies to and from the ISS.

The space taxi job meant the Soyuz was no longer available to shuttle private tourists and Russia canceled the program in 2010. Now, there are several space tourism companies designing their own craft in an effort to corner the niche market.

Another Russian company, KosmoKurs, has been licensed by the Roscosmos space agency to ferry tourists into low Earth orbit for a 15-minute rider with a price tag of $200,000-$250,000. The capsule will have room for one pilot and six passengers who will spend five to six minutes in zero gravity.

U.S.-based Virgin Galatic may be the best known space tourism company and their SpaceShipTwo will be used for suborbital flights at a cost of $250,000 for two hours for each of the six passengers. The first version of the SpaceShipTwo broke up in 2014 and a recently completed second version is currently undergoing testing.

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin plans to start providing short trips so tourists can enjoy the feeling of weightlessness in 2018 if testing goes well. The company tested its New Shepard launch vehicle last November and made a return trip in January.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been ferrying astronauts and supplies to the ISS for years, but so far hasn’t shown any interest in the space tourism business, although they have announced plans to start colonizing Mars with cargo trips beginning in 2018.

That may change in the next decade, however, as NASA plans to sell off the International Space Station to a commercial partner which can take over its responsibilities so it can redirect federal funds toward a manned Mars mission.

Former NASA astronaut Don Thomas, who flew four missions into space, told the Telegraph he thinks space tourism will take off in the next decade and will become more cheaply available to those who are “merely rich,” and not just billionaires.

“In a decade or so, you will see flights to space for $10,000 to $15,000. Space travel will be more in line with an exotic trip to Antarctica.”

What do you think about Russia’s plan to send eight space tourists on a trip around the moon?

[Photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool Photo/AP Images]

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