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Friday, 27 April, 2001, 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK
Q & A: Space tourism: Dream or reality?

As Californian multi-millionaire Dennis Tito prepares to blast off aboard a Russian rocket to become the world's first "space tourist", BBC News Online considers whether the trip will mark a new era of paid space travel.

What does a ticket into space cost?

Dennis Tito will pay a reported $20m (14m) for his trip to the International Space Station (ISS), aboard a Russian rocket.

The 60-year-old will fly with two cosmonauts, Talgat Musabayev and Yuri Baturin, aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket. The supply ship can take three people, allowing a seat for a passenger.

However, whether anyone else is likely to follow in Tito's footsteps is a matter of dispute. Nasa initially objected to the flight, saying the presence of an amateur on board could jeopardise the crew's safety, but dropped its opposition this week.

Dennis Tito AP
Tito: Thumbs up for the trip
Russian space officials insist Tito has received the same training for living in space that professionals get, and that his main tasks are to stay out of the crew's way, follow general regulations and know how to act in an emergency.

Partners in the 12-nation space station project said in a statement on Tuesday that they had agreed not to propose another "flight of a non-professional crewmember" until detailed crew criteria had been finalised and adopted.

What will Tito do on his trip?

Russian Aerospace Agency spokesman Konstantin Kreidenko told the news agency AP on Friday: "The tourist Tito will simply sit and watch."

However, Tito denies being just a high-flying passenger. He says he will experiment with stereo photography from space, and the larger mission of tracing the path for future recreational trips into orbit.

Tito said in a recent interview that he wanted to lead the race into orbit by artists, musicians, novelists and other creative types.

"I don't think anyone realises how beautiful space is," he said.

What about commercial space ventures?

Some entrepreneurs envision a time when space tourism could become more affordable and widespread.

James Oberg, a US expert on the Russian space programme told the Associated Press this week: "Over the past century or two, millionaires have opened the public's access to dozens of activities which now entertain and thrill millions.

"It happened with airplanes, with ballooning, with scuba and skydiving and home telescopes, with photography and home video recording and personal computers."

  • One US-based company says it is designing orbiting stations for future tourists.

  • Another says it expects to be able to offer suborbital excursions by 2005.

  • Over 1,000 people have put their name down on the waiting list for a trip to the Moon.

However, some Russian space veterans caution against over enthusiasm.

Tito and cosmonauts AP
Dennis Tito and Russian cosmonauts Talgat Musabayev, centre, and Yuri Baturin, right
"I think tourist projects are a bit too early for space," cosmonaut Sergei Avdeyev is quoted as saying.

"With ordinary tourism, you go buy a tour and fly off. You get certain conditions: If you don't like your room, you can change it; if you don't get enough fruit at the hotel, you can go out and buy more," he added.

"All of these things that surround tourism are not envisaged here."

What other options are there for travelling into space?

There have been several contests offering a trip into space as the top prize. MirCorp and the NBC TV network came up with Destination Mir, in which the "survivor" of several weeks of cosmonaut training would get to go to the Mir space station.

A new contest - Space Commander - has begun in Germany by the Brainpool TV group. The company says it will send the winner to the ISS.

Another option is to travel in space in spirit only, by sending a sample of your DNA on a space probe.

Finally, you could always apply to join the elite band of astronauts and cosmonauts.

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See also:

27 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Profile: Tito the spaceman
14 Dec 00 | Sci/Tech
Mir company launches new plan
23 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Mir's return
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