Space Adventures, the Russian Aviation & Space Agency, and RSC Energia, Russia's leading aerospace company, announced an agreement to fly two tourists simultaneously to the international space station on a Soyuz spacecraft.
"After the loss of Columbia, the president said that our journey into space must go on," said Space Adventures CEO Eric Anderson. "The advancement of commercial space flight and space tourism should and will continue, to everyone's advantage."
About a dozen people have applied for the two civilian seats on the proposed flight, and two will be selected in 60 to 90 days, the company said.
It won't be cheap — $20 million per seat, the same amount American businessman Dennis Tito paid to become the first space tourist in 2001, and qualifying won't be simple.
Applicants will have to undergo rigorous medical examinations and training to qualify. If the flights go to the international space station as Space Adventures promises, they also likely will require the approval of NASA and the space station partners.
NASA, which initially opposed Tito's flight, last year released a list of traits that would disqualify a visitor, including: criminal, dishonest or notoriously disgraceful conduct; intentional false statement or fraud; illegal drug or excessive alcohol use; and connections to organizations which might damage public confidence in the space station.
Calls to NASA officials Wednesday were not immediately returned.
The partners might not approve of a tourist flight at all right now. With the U.S. shuttle fleet grounded pending an investigation into the Columbia disaster, the Soyuz ships are the only links to the space station. NASA has said it hopes to have shuttles flying within a year.
Space Adventures, a seven-year-old Arlington, Va.-based company, brokered the deal with the Russian government for Tito's flight, as well as a flight last year by South African Mark Shuttleworth. Both businessmen traveled with astronauts already on missions, Anderson said. The proposed 2005 mission would be for tourists only, and a Russian cosmonaut would operate the spacecraft for the eight-to-10-day trip.
Anderson said he expects to be sending tourists into space annually within a decade.