The Race to Visit Space
Hundreds Signing Up for Tourist Trips to the Heavens
Listen to David Kestenbaum's report.
See a photo gallery of a few of the space tourism vehicles currently in construction.
For $20 million, 28-year-old South African Mark Shuttleworth gets to spend eight days on the International Space Station.
African in Space Project
The first space tourist, Dennis Tito, on board the ISS last year.
Photo: NASA TV
April 30, 2002 --The International Space Station this week houses five astronauts and one "space flight participant" -- to use NASA's words. Mark Shuttleworth, in plain English, is the world's second space tourist. Shuttleworth, a 28-year-old South African Internet businessman, is paying $20 million for the trip. About a year ago, Dennis Tito became the world's first space tourist -- also at a price of $20 million.
For most people, that's a lot of money for a couple weeks in a small, noisy government-run hotel. But for others, going to space is almost a spiritual quest. And they see Shuttleworth's voyage as the dawning of a new era, long overdue. NPR's David Kestenbaum reports for All Things Considered.
Ask Jeff Greason why he wants to go to space and he doesn't have a neat answer. If you have to ask, he says, you just aren't going to get it.
Greason had always assumed that by now, he would be able to buy a ticket. About 15 years ago, though, he realized that wasn't going to happen. And if he wanted to go space, he would have to build the opportunity himself.
Until recently, the engineer worked for a small company trying to build its own spaceship, with helicopter blades to assist in landings.
Now he's president of a company called XCOR. His goal today is more modest: to build a kind of airplane capable of flying a hundred kilometers up and seeing what Alan Shepherd did in 1961 when he became the first American in space.
Greason just returned from Kazakhstan where he watched Shuttleworth ride a rocket 250 miles up to the space station.
Shuttleworth's flight was arranged by a company called Space Adventures, which also offers cheaper alternatives, like flights in fighter planes and rides in centrifuges. More than 100 people have even put down money -- totaling some $2 million -- to reserve seats on a sub-orbital flight. The vehicle to carry them doesn't even exist yet.
Many of the customers are adventurers, the type who also want to climb Mount Everest. The others are space dreamers.
They would like to see NASA focus on developing cheaper routes to space so the free market could take over and make it affordable. Earth's orbit would become a destination spot, filled with space hotels and arenas for low-gravity sports.
NASA is working on cheaper routes to space. But for the time being, says Bill Readdy, NASA's deputy assistant administrator for space flight, tourists will have to wait. Space flight is still an extremely risky business, says Readdy, with chances of dying about 1 in 500.
Browse for more NPR stories about space.
Find out if you qualify for a trip to the space station at Space Adventures.
Read more about humans in space at NASA.
Find out more about Mark Shuttleworth's trip at First African into Space.
Space Access Society promotes "radically cheaper access to space, ASAP."
The X Prize Foundation is offering $10 million for the first privately financed spaceship that can carry three people 62 miles into space.