the right stuff
Redux thought this month’s piece on a game changer would be limited to what happens here on Earth. But then we met Eric Anderson. He’s the person responsible for sending people just like you and me to space. And by traditional frequent flyer miles, Eric’s clients would now total 36 million points.
You may have heard about commercial space travel on the news or over water cooler conversations. If you’re from the Tysons Corner, VA area, you may not realize that it all started right here in your backyard.
It began with a young college graduate from the University of Virginia who managed to climb to the top of his class, graduating magna cum laude with a degree in aerospace engineering. He wanted to be a pilot, but his eyesight prevented him from pursuing that dream. So, as getting behind a military aeronautical craft was no longer in the cards, this young innovator by the name of Eric Anderson would find a way to go beyond the clouds and reach for the stars.
“I began to realize that space exploration shouldn’t be just for a few with the ‘right stuff.’ After meeting some like-minded people, I co-founded Space Adventures, Inc., with the intention of opening up space travel to everyone.”
Nearly 20 years ago, the idea of going to space as a tourist was almost unheard of. Today, the demand to travel to outer space far out-weighs the supply, and the challenge is finding available seats. Since NASA retired their space shuttle several years ago, the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that had transported all of Space Adventures’ clients was now the only way to space for all the astronauts requiring transport to the International Space Station. So Anderson’s Russian partners were unable to sell him the seats that he needed for his clientele. Today, Anderson has spaceflight agreements with not only the Russian space agency but also with Boeing and SpaceX, to offer their clients a choice from three different vehicles.
Since the inception of Space Adventures in 1998, seven clients completed eight missions to the International Space Station. “And to compare the first mission to the eighth mission is night and day,” says Anderson. “The first mission was groundbreaking in the fact that it was the first time that a self-funded noncareer astronaut launched to space, so there were a lot of rules and regulations. By the eighth mission, all involved in the coordination knew that our clients were serious about their time in space. So, everyone was more comfortable in the idea of our clients visiting the space station.”
Redux eXtra asked Anderson what the profile of a prospective space flight client looks like. Anderson said, “They are all self-made, very determined individuals and they saw spaceflight as a goal.” And now Space Adventures offers the opportunity for one of their clients to be the first nonprofessional astronaut to do a spacewalk. “The individual who decides to challenge themselves in conducting a spacewalk will be someone who most likely always takes their life to the next level. No obstacle is too big.”
Since 2001, Space Adventures’ clients have launched on the Russian Soyuz. Their destination was the International Space Station. Their new home in space was traveling at 17,000 mph, orbiting earth every 90 minutes. Each candidate for space flight passed a rigorous space flight training regimen in Star City, Russia where they trained with their space flight crew members. “They prepare themselves for their daily schedule in orbit, like how to eat, sleep and go to the bathroom in space, but are also trained in emergency protocols. Especially, they learn what buttons not to touch,” said Anderson.
The training prepares clients for life in space. It not only preps their mind and body for the trip but also teaches them the specific protocols for the Soyuz and the Russian segment of the International Space Station. Clients also trained at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, to become familiar with the U.S. segment of the space station.
On Monday, September 18, 2006, the first female space tourist lifted off on the Soyuz TMA-9 mission with commander Mikhail Tyurin and flight engineer Michael Lopez-Alegria, through Space Adventures. Her name was Anousheh Ansari. An Iranian-American and George Mason University graduate, Ansari made her fortune in the telecommunications industry and was originally an alternate candidate to Daisuke Enomoto for a flight to the International Space Station. On August 21, 2006, Enomoto was medically disqualified from flying the Soyuz TMA-9 mission. The next day, Ansari was elevated to the main crew.
“I hope to inspire everyone — especially young people, women and young girls all over the world,” says Ansari. “I believe they can realize their dreams if they keep it in their hearts, nurture it, look for opportunities and make those opportunities happen.”
The goal of Space Adventures is not merely to create a viable space tourist market. It’s also to contribute to science and research through commercial space travel. During her nine-day stay onboard the International Space Station, Ansari tasked herself with performing a series of experiments on behalf of the European Space Agency. She conducted four experiments, including researching the mechanisms behind anemia, how changes in muscles influence lower back pain and the consequences of space radiation on ISS crew members.
Gregory Olsen, an American entrepreneur, became the third private citizen to make a self-funded trip to the International Space Station in 2005, with Space Adventures. Olsen was vocal and noted for disagreeing with the designation of being a space tourist. “The term ‘space tourist’ implies that you’ll write a check and you go for a joyride. And believe me, that is not the case at all. I had to train for a year and a half before being ready to go into space, and during a routine X-ray, a black spot was found on my lung, and it took nine months for me to pass the medical.” National Geographic’s coverage “Space Launch – Along for the Ride (2007)
Working with Seattle software billionaire Charles Simonyi, who flew a 10-day mission to the International Space Station in 2007 and again in 2009 with Space Adventures’ help, was a particularly joyful experience for Anderson. “Charles was able to enjoy the spaceflight even more the second time because he knew what to expect and what was expected of him,” said Anderson.
In September 2009, Guy Laliberté, co-founder of Cirque de Soleil, became the first Canadian space tourist, with the guidance of Space Adventures. His spaceflight was dedicated to raising awareness on water-related issues that face humankind, making his spaceflight the first, in his words, “poetic social mission” in space. His mission was accompanied by a 120-minute live webcast program featuring various artistic performances in 14 cities and on five continents, conducted from the International Space Station.
When we asked Anderson to reflect on the last 20 years, he said, “Nothing worthwhile comes easy. The road to commercial spaceflight has been difficult, but with every challenge, we’ve worked hard to overcome it. I’m proud that we’ve accomplished what we have so far. Our clients have spent close to 90 days in space, traveling over 36 million miles, and there’s more progress to be made. There are more entrants, and we applaud that because for our mission to come to fruition there need to be more players in all the fields of commercial space, which includes providers, brokers, manufacturers, researchers, etc.”
Anderson said that Space Adventures is based right here in our backyard of Tysons Corner for a couple of reasons. “I chose the Washington, D.C. metro area because of its proximity to NASA headquarters. And plus, I wanted to stay in the region after graduating from UVA. We have had our headquarters in Tysons since 2006,” said Anderson.
Wondering what the admission cost for space travel is? It’s in the range of $50 million U.S. dollars — and there are no coupon books available just yet. Anderson is working on having a full schedule of flights every year for the next decade and eventually having clients launch to the moon and beyond.
Redux eXtra applauds innovators and game changers like Eric Anderson for thinking way, way outside of the box. If you would like more information about commercial space travel or would like to connect with Space Adventures, visit their website: https://spaceadventures.com/