Russia says it is going to start letting tourists go out on spacewalks outside the International Space Station (ISS) as early as 2019 – and they’re also planning to add a hotel-like room to the station.
Seven people have paid to go to space as space tourists, the last being Canadian businessman Guy Laliberté in 2009. British singer Sarah Brightman was supposed to also go in 2015, but her flight was canceled for unknown reasons.
Now Russia appears to be ramping up its space tourism efforts, suggesting it will offer trips lasting up to 10 days for a cost of $100 million. This was about the length of previous paid flights, but none have included spacewalks before.
"We are discussing the possibility of sending tourists on spacewalks," Vladimir Solntsev, the head of Russian space company Energia, told the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reports AFP.
"Market analysts have confirmed this: wealthy people are ready to pay money for this."
Russia, specifically Energia, has been known for making rather ambitious claims in the past. In 2017 they said they planned to send tourists around the Moon by 2022, and they’ve also said they want to build a lunar base by 2050.
In 2019, NASA is expected to stop paying Russia $70 million a seat for flights to the ISS on its Soyuz vehicle, as they’ll have two new American spacecraft to use instead. Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has reportedly had some money problems recently – so it’s perhaps not too surprising they might be looking for other money-making ventures.
Solntsev said that Energia was also building a new module, called the Science and Power Module (NEM-2), to launch to the ISS in 2019 (previously it had been 2021). Described as a “luxury hotel”, the NEM-2 will be able to house four to six people, fitted out with comfortable cabins and two toilets.
"Basically it will be comfortable, as much as that is possible in space," he said.
Note, there are quite a lot of unknowns about all this. With six people, that would double the crew size on the ISS to 12 people, so you'd need infrastructure to support that. NASA, of course, would also have to be on board for anything that does go ahead.
It’s previously been noted that this NEM-2 module would take seven years to build – and it’s unclear if construction has begun yet. With NASA considering ending its involvement in the ISS in 2024, though, who knows if this will ever actually see the light of day.
Still, it’s a nice dream, if you’re a billionaire with a few million dollars to spare. For the rest of us, well, it probably doesn't make too much difference either way.