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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK
Q&A: Space tourism: Dream or reality?
Prototype Russian tourist space ship (Associated Press)
Prototype Russian tourist spaceship
As South African millionaire Mark Shuttleworth blasts off aboard a Russian rocket to become the world's second "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?

Mark Shuttleworth is paying a reported $20m (14m) for his trip to the International Space Station (ISS), aboard a Russian rocket.

American Dennis Tito, who became the first space tourist last April, paid a similar amount.

The American space agency (Nasa) initially objected to Mr Tito's flight, saying the presence of an amateur on board could jeopardise the crew's safety. It later dropped its objections.

Unlike Mr Tito, the South African will be able to walk freely around the ISS, according to Russian space officials.

Mr Tito was confined to the Russian area of the orbiting space platform.

What will Mark Shuttleworth do on his trip?

The internet millionaire plans to do research into stem cells and Aids while in space.

Tito and cosmonauts AP
Dennis Tito and Russian cosmonauts Talgat Musabayev, centre, and Yuri Baturin, right
He says he has been asked to take samples of the Aids virus into space to try to grow crystals.

"Hopefully this will help scientists to understand the role of those proteins and will help them to come up with the drugs that will interfere with HIV's attack on the human immune system," he said in a recent radio interview.

Dennis Tito spent most of his time experimenting with photography and enjoying the view.

However, Mr Tito denied being just a high-flying passenger. He said he wanted to lead the race into orbit by artists, musicians, novelists and other creative types.

What about commercial space ventures?

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

  • 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 names down on the waiting list for a trip to the Moon.
However, some Russian space veterans caution against over enthusiasm.

"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."

Are there other options for amateur space travel?

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 run 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.

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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