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Russia: Space Agency Planning 'Space Hotel' For Tourists

A Netherlands-based company is teaming up with the Russian space agency to launch the first "space hotel" for tourists. How realistic is the plan and who is likely to buy a package holiday in space? RFE/RL correspondent Kathleen Knox spoke to the company's vice president.

Prague, 5 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Forget crowded beach resorts. For world-weary adventure-seekers with $20 million to spare, "MirCorp" may just have the ideal holiday destination: outer space.

The Netherlands-based company says it plans to launch the first commercial space station in 2004 when its $100 million Mini Station One goes into orbit.

MirCorp hopes to launch Mini Station One from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Guests will be ferried to the station on Soyuz space crafts while Progress cargo vehicles will be used to bring supplies.

If all goes to plan, tourists really will have the chance to "get away from it all" for up to 20 days.

$20 million should be the average price tag on a room with a view at the station. Its core will be an adapted Soyuz craft that will double in size when the ship ferrying guests docks.

Gert Meyers is company vice president: "What we envisage for now is three people going to our space station of which up to two will be paying tourists, but this is still under investigation by our Russian partners. We have to take all the safety precautions into account."

To be sure, the idea of civilians in space is not exactly new.

In the mid-1980s, teacher Christa McAuliffe was the first private citizen chosen for the U.S. citizen-in-space program to fly journalists, poets, and others on the space shuttle. That program was curtailed after the 1986 Challenger tragedy, when the shuttle exploded seconds after launch, killing all -- including McAuliffe -- on board.

John Glenn -- a former astronaut and U.S. senator -- made a return trip to space at the age of 77.

American millionaire Dennis Tito paid Russia's space agency nearly $20 million earlier this year to hitch a lift to the International Space Station (ISS).

And South African businessman Mark Shuttleworth is currently undergoing sea survival training near the Black Sea resort of Sochi with a view to visiting the ISS.

But MirCorp's plan will be the first program to regularly send fee-paying tourists on space trips over the station's planned 15-year life span.

Weyers says plenty of potential customers are already queuing up.

"We have not only citizen explorers, as we call them, we also have scientific people that want to fly to our space station to do their research on our facility. So there are quite a few people lining up for this enterprise. We also have journalists and media people who want to experience outer space and orbital platforms. Since the station will be so close to the ISS we think we can offer the platform with the best view. We have a view on the ISS, all the exciting activities going on there, plus we have an excellent view of Earth."

Aside from the sight-seeing, prospective tourists may welcome research that indicate that people sleep more soundly in space than they do on Earth, with fewer periods of disturbed sleep and less snoring.

On the down side, space tourists will have to put up with motion sickness and the setting and rising of the sun many times a day.

With safety of paramount concern, training will be a little more rigorous than for the average beach holiday.

"All explorers will go through cosmonaut training in Russia, so we are not just sending up tourists, this is a very serious matter. It's not just a space trip, it's an entire training to become a cosmonaut."

Weyers says age is no great barrier.

"As you know the U.S. has already launched people that were of, let's say, advanced age. So the prime importance is physical and mental health. The Soyuz capsule has been adapted so that taller people can also now fly to outer space."

MirCorp was founded last year to save the Russian space station Mir and develop it as a space hotel. MirCorp is majority-owned by the firm that built Mir, Russia's RKK Energiya.

That plan failed and Mir met its end when it was dumped into the Pacific Ocean in March.

But Weyers is more hopeful about this project.

"The difference between the Mir space station that we used to lease and our new space station is that we don't have the image of the Mir which was portrayed in the international press as old and dilapidated and falling out of the skies. We are launching a brand new space station with a life span of 15 years. So we are working with a completely new orbital station here."

Weyers says MirCorp is working to reach agreement on the space hotel project with all ISS participants.