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Price of a Space Vacation? Astronomical!

NASA: Study says civilian jaunts would be commercially feasible if cost could be cut to $100,000 a person or less. Currently, the tab would be $10 million each.

April 19, 1998|KATHERINE RIZZO | ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON — If NASA sold tickets on the space shuttle and squeezed 50 passengers aboard, it would have to charge $10 million per ticket just to break even, a study shows.

The study, done jointly by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and private industry, concluded that the space-vacation business is feasible, potentially lucrative, and not that far in the future--depending on how soon significant problems are resolved.

But it said the price would have to come down to about $100,000 to make civilian tickets into space begin to be commercially feasible.

"It's got to get 100 times cheaper, 100 times more reliable and 100 times more regular," Jack Mansfield, a former NASA associate administrator, said as he helped describe the results of the study of civilian space travel.

"There are technical, operational, regulatory and other problems, but the study concluded that these problems are no longer intractable," said Thomas Rogers, president of the Space Transportation Assn. "We can begin to open up space to the general public."

The report said the space-ride business should be done by private enterprises separate from NASA, but the government would be needed to help such enterprises get off the ground.

NASA has no plans to sell seats on the shuttle or to cram civilians aboard.

The report said government-sponsored research needs to find ways to:

* Drop the cost of space travel to $100,000 for starters, and eventually lower, to develop a true mass market.

* Reduce space sickness.

* Improve safety, reliability and comfort of space vehicles.

NASA senior policy analyst Lori Garver, a member of a steering committee for the study, said NASA didn't agree with all of the recommendations, such as a suggestion that senior federal officials go for a spin in space to set an example for would-be orbiters and a suggestion that the shuttle fleet be used to demonstrate and help sell early tourist flights.

"NASA does support the commercial use of space," said spokeswoman Debra Rahn. "We need to study all of these things in detail."

Rogers said he envisioned private rocketeers providing suborbital flights on demand in less than 10 years.

Space vacation companies that have already sprung up have shorter timetables than that.

Seattle-based Zegrahm Space Voyages is taking reservations for upper-atmosphere flights--100 kilometers above sea level--beginning Dec. 1, 2001. The cost: $98,000, with a $5,000 deposit required.

Virginia-based Space Adventures Inc. sells 10 minutes of weightlessness aboard a modified Russian Space Agency jet for $5,500 and is taking deposits on suborbital flights, with an estimated cost of $75,000 to $100,000 and an estimated timetable of three to five years in the future.

A relatively new entity called the X Prize Foundation has offered $10 million to the inventor of the first reusable private spacecraft that can reach the 100-kilometer mark twice in two weeks with three humans aboard.

That's not quite as high as Alan Shepard flew when he became the first American in space in 1961, but it would be suborbital space flight.

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