Russia may be threatening to pull out of the International Space Station program by 2020, but until then it intends to profit from it, according to a Friday story on the Voice of Moscow. Russia is selling seats on its Soyuz spacecraft with a two week stay on the ISS thrown in for $45-50 million according to President of RKK Energia Vitaly Lopota. This is more than double the $20 million that former NASA scientist and entrepreneur Dennis Tito paid for a trip to the ISS in April, 2001. But it still represents a discount from the almost $62 million per ride that NASA is paying the Russians.
Other tourists in space, according to Space Adventures, the organization that brokered the trips for the Russians include computer game millionaire Richard Garriott, the son ironically of Skylab astronaut Owen Garriott, and Iranian American business woman Anousheh Ansari. Russia halted tourist flights in 2010 when the size of the ISS crew increased to six. Flights have resumed with British music superstar Sarah Brightman scheduled to make a trip sometime in 2015.
In the meantime, Virgin Galactic is still working toward suborbital jaunts to begin perhaps by the end of 2014. The company was recently obliged to switch the fuel to be burned by its SpaceShipTwo engines from a rubber based compound to one based on a plastic called polyamides. The end of 2014 launch date is entirely dependent on how the test program proceeds.
The future of space tourism, especially to the ISS, is tempered by the current dustup between the Russian Federation and the rest of the world caused by the aggression against the Ukraine. If the ISS program is ended prematurely, Russia will lose the revenue stream it has enjoyed by turning it into an orbiting guest house for the well-heeled and adventurous. Whether that is a tradeoff ut is willing to make to poke NASA and the United States in the eye remains to be seen.