February 16, 2006 The sunrise industry of Space tourism has already demonstrated how lucrative it could become with the prices rumoured to have been paid by the first three space tourists. Californian millionaire Denis Tito became the first paying customer of Space Adventures in mid 2001 parting with an unconfirmed US$20 million and similar numbers were bandied around for 28 year old South African technology millionaire Mark Shuttleworth, and American technology entrepreneur Greg Olsen who returned from the International Space Station in October, 2005. Hong Kong resident and Japanese entrepreneur Daisuke Enomoto (Dice-K) will become the fourth space tourist this coming October, but while the number of spare seats available at the International Space Station remain extremely limited, the laws of supply and demand will ensure that space remains the domain of paid astronauts and the privileged super-wealthy. Hope is however at hand, as the United States Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta has announced that commercial space craft could be cleared to carry passengers by as early as 2008. Speaking to a group of space entrepreneurs, the Secretary said that a number of companies should be set to take passengers into space and that the U.S. Department of Transportation would be ready to clear these flights within two years.
“This timeline isn’t based on science fiction,” Secretary Mineta said. “It is a timeline based on the reality of where commercial space is today and where we expect the state of commercial space to be within two short years.”
Mineta noted that the Department, which is responsible for clearing commercial space travel, would be ready to approve the passenger flights once tests of craft designed to take passengers into space were completed. The Secretary said he expected to issue permits next year to allow the test flights, and that if these flights were successful, the Department would then issue a license for passenger space travel.
“We will move quickly to green-light flights that we know are safe,” Mineta said. He added that if companies were able to complete testing sooner, the Department also would be ready. “When the industry is set for lift off, we will be ready to launch,” Mineta pledged.
The Secretary made it clear that the Department would take steps to ensure the safety of these commercial passenger space flights. But he added that the agency would make sure these checks did not delay the launch of passenger space travel.
“We have an important role to play in ensuring the safety of commercial space flights, especially for passengers,” Mineta said. “But we also have an obligation to encourage innovation and support new developments.”
The Secretary made the announcement during a keynote address to the 9th Annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, DC.