SPACE TOURISTS AND THE DECLINE OF RUSSIAN SPACE PROGRAM

DECLINE OF RUSSIAN SPACE PROGRAM

After the break up of the Soviet Union, the Russian space program was crippled by a lack of funds, lack of interest and brain drain. The space budget in 2000 was only $114 million a far cry from the $12.6 billion spent by NASA. The electricity was shut off at one important space command center that guided orbiting satellites and participated in ISS operation because of an unpaid bill. Russians were upset that the cosmonaut in the film Armageddon was portrayed as a drunk who fixed everything with a monkey wrench.

Describing the scene at Russian space agency headquarters in Korolyov north of Moscow in the early 2000s, Peter Baker wrote in Washington Post: “The statues, bust and posters of Yuri Gagarin...have grown worn. The orbital path of the space station Mir...has been removed from the wall-size mission control map. A spacecraft launched just last week has gone missing.”

In May 2003, communication was lost with a Soyuz capsule as it was in the process of landing. For two hours it was not known where the spacecraft was or what had happened to the two Americans and one Russian on board. Finally it was found in the Kazakhstan steppes more than 500 kilometers from where it was supposed to land. The capsule had gone into a deep ballistic entry, subjecting the crew to twice the usual gravity forces. Everyone survived.

As of July 2001, only two to five of the nine high-elliptical satellites Russia had orbited since 1995 were still in orbit and there were huge areas that were supposed to be watched by spy surveillance that weren’t. Mission Control Center at Korolye used a large projection screen that sagged around the edges, ancient display terminals and rotary-dial phones. On the walls were posters with 1950s-style civil defense posters.

In the early 2000s, the network of launching facilities that one lofted 150 civilian rockets a year into space launched only 20. N-1 rockets were dismembered and used for scrap. Left over parts were made into picnic tables and pig-feeding troughs. The cosmodrome wasn't even in Russia, it was in Kazakhstan. After the break up of the Soviet Union, Russia paid Kazakhstan $115 million a year for 20 years to rent the Baikobur cosmodrome. To save money satellites were launched from converted ICBMs fired from submerged submarines.

Efforts to Make Money for the Russian Space Program

Russian rockets have been used to launch Western satellites. The prices are much lower than those for similar services in the United States and Europe. The Russian space program is much more cost effective than NASA programs.

The stuff the Russians make may not be as light, high tech and gimmicky as the U.S. stuff but it often works just as well as stuff that costs many times more. The Russians have saved an enormous amount of money by using the same Proton rockets they used in the 1960s and haven’t spent a lot of money on research and development and retooling factories.

NASA provided $400 million to help keep the Russian space program afloat. The money paid for Americans on Mir and other privileges but was viewed by Russians largely as a charity handout. NASA formed joint ventures with the Russian space program. Companies like Hughes, Boeing and Lockheed Martin have collaborated with Russia on commercial satellite launches.

For a $1 million fee, cosmonauts unveiled a large nylon-and-aluminum "soda can" with a Pepsi logo outside of Mir. There was also discussion about placing a Pizza Hut logo on a Proton rocket for $1 million. The Russians also accepted $12 million from a Japanese television station to send a reporter to Mir.

Future of Russia Space Program

Russia once said it planned to land a man on Mars by 2020. In the early 2000s, it announced a $20 billion plan to send six cosmonauts on a round-trip 440-day mission to Mars. According to the plan two ships —one with a crew and one with cargo—would be sent to Mars. Three of the cosmonauts would descend to the surface to look for evidence of past life—while the three others remain in a crafts that orbits Mars.

The Mas plan is a revival of a scheme first hatched in the 1950s and helped revive the Russian space program by given it a sense of mission but many questioned whether Russia could even come close to pulling it off, namely because it was not clear where the money would come from

The 1st woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, has said that women astronauts will be necessary for a Mars mission. “It’ll take about two years to go to Mars and come back,” she said. “There will be no order without women on board.”

There has also been some discussion of building a colony on the moon. Anxious to earn a share of the space tourism market a Russian aerospace company developed a "space plane" that would carry people in suborbital flight and weightlessness for about 10 minutes. The three-seat Cosmopolis-XXI utilizes technologies developed from the Buran space shuttle and hoped to take adventurers in space for around $100,000. The plan was dropped but a similar plan was picked up by Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic.

Space Tourists

In April 2001, American financier Dennis Tito became the world's first space tourist. He stayed in space for eight days and took off and landed in Kazakhstan in a Soyuz capsule and spent. After returning Tito said it was the best experience of his life and a dream come true. Tito, a 60-year-old investment fund manager worth about $200 million, spent $20 million for the privilege. The Russians took him because they needed the money. The $20 million accounted for about one seventh of that year’s $145 million space budget. NASA wasn't pleased by the commercialization of space.

In April 2002, 28-year-old South African Internet billionaire Mark Shuttleworth became the second space tourist. H was the first African to venture into space. He didn't like the label "space tourist.” He participated in experiments and didn't spend his time looking out the window. Shuttleworth paid more than Tito because he insisted in bringing along a scientific package. In July 2005, 60-year-old American millionaire Gregory Olsen was selected to be the 3rd space tourist. Olsen is a scientist and founded of a company that makes infrared equipment.

Lance Bass, member of the boy group ‘N Sync, trained to become a space tourist in 2002 but in the end the deal loft him into was space was dropped because of problems paying the $20 million fee. Most of the money was supposed to come from commercial sponsors. Producers, who planned to make a series about Bass’s adventures, blamed the problem on the Russian bureaucracy. Russian bureaucrats said the producer failed to come up with the money in advance as is required. Bass was 23 at the time. If he had gone through with the mission he would have been the youngest person in space. He trained extensively at Star City outside Moscow. In the end Bass was replaced by a cargo container.

Super-model Cindy Crawford, actor Tom Cruise and Titanic-director James Cameron expressed interest in going to space. The Russian rock group Na-Na trained to go into space but didn’t go. A European producer involved with Bass trip wanted to set up a game show in which the winners would win a free trip into space.

Space Tourism

Tito and Shuttleworth arranged their trips through Space Adventures Ltd. of Arlington, Virginia. Those wishing to be space tourist have to be in good health and pay the $20 million fees, and ideally go through a six month training program. Grounds for disqualification include "criminal, dishonest, infamous or notoriously disgraceful conduct," abuse of narcotics, "habitual" drinking, delinquency or misconduct in the military or past employment, lying to pass exams or get a job.

One former cosmonaut compared space tourism to opening a strip club and casino in the Kremlin. Some found the Bass episode particularly unappealing in the way that it turned space travel into a publicity stunt. NASA was not receptive to the idea suggested by the Russian Space Agency of extending ISS mission from six months to a year to free up space on the Soyuz craft for space tourists.

Martha Stewart Cheers on Her Space Tourist Friend

In April 2007, television personality and decorating guru Martha Stewart visited Baikonur, Kazakhstan to cheer on her best friend Charles Simonyi, 58, who blasted off into space as a space tourist. People.com reported: “Simonyi, a software engineer and developer of Microsoft Word, paid $20-25 million to take a 13-day trip to the international space station. He lifted off in a Soyuz space capsule along with two Russian cosmonauts at 11:31 p.m. local time. Stewart and Simonyi have been close friends for years, and he has supported her through her legal troubles. In March 2005, he told PEOPLE of Stewart's time at Alderson Federal Prison Camp: "She went through a difficult experience with dignity." [Source: Brian Orloff, People.com, April 6, 2007 */*]

“Now it's Stewart's turn to support her friend. According to the AP, she planned the gourmet meal he will share with his comrades in space on April 12 – Cosmonauts' Day, a Russian holiday. On the menu: quail roasted in Madiran wine, duck breast confit with capers and semolina cake with dried apricots, shredded chicken parmentier among other delicacies. The food was prepared by chef Alain Ducasse's training center, ADF, according to Space Adventures, the company that arranged Simonyi's trip. */*

“The pals shared a private moment separated by a plate glass window to protect Simonyi and his crewmates from germs. "He's in excellent spirits," Stewart told the AP. "He's very fit and very well-trained." Simonyi will document his experiences on a blog which he hopes will inspire others, especially children, to get interested in space exploration. He will also conduct experiments at the space station, measuring radiation levels and study biological organisms in a lab. */*

“The Hungary-born Simonyi, who now runs his own software company, said at a news conference that his friend Bill Gates was "very happy that I am doing this." Most of all, he said, "There is an element of hope. We don't quite know what we are going to find, but we have to go and see and find it."” While in Kazakhstan Stewart made time to ride on a camel. */*

Sarah Brightman Cancels Her Space Tourist Trip

In May 2015, singer Sarah Brightman, then 54 years old, said she was postponing — which many interpreted as cancelling — her planned trip to the International Space Station. Martin Chilton wrote in The Telegraph, “Brightman, who had worked with composer and former husband Andrew Lloyd Webber to create a song to sing in space, had been training in Star City near Moscow, and was due to blast off in a Russian Soyuz rocket on a tourist flight on September 1. She recorded the song in New York in March and said at the time: "To sing in microgravity is a very different thing to singing down here. We use the Earth to ground ourselves when we sing and the air around us. This is going to be very different. I'm trying to find a piece that is beautiful and simple in its message, as well as not complicated to sing." [Source: Martin Chilton, The Telegraph, May 14, 2015 ||||]

“But a statement on the soprano's website said she was setting the plans aside, and that for "personal family reasons" her intentions had changed. Eric Anderson, co-founder and chairman of Space Adventures said: "Since 2012, Sarah has shared her story of a lifelong dream to fly to space. Her international fame as the world's best-selling soprano has enabled her message to circle the globe, inspiring others to pursue their own dreams. We've seen first-hand her dedication to every aspect of her spaceflight training and to date, has passed all of her training and medical tests. We applaud her determination and we'll continue to support her as she pursues a future spaceflight opportunity." ||||

“If the plans of Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic team for space tourism ever come to life, then star passengers such as actor Tom Hanks have already booked their £150,000 space tickets for a 15-minute space flight. Among the other celebrities who are set to boldly go where Brightman won't are Dallas actress Victoria Principal, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and Ashton Kutcher. The space trips are return tickets, however, which may upset anyone who knows that Russell Brand and Justin Bieber have also reportedly booked tickets for the Virgin Galactic flight.” ||||

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2016

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