Left in the Dust: The First Golden Age of Citizen Space Travel: UNM Newsroom

The first civilian in space was a Japanese journalist in 1990, Toyohiro Akiyama. Then, six months later, Helen Sharman, a prominent British chemist, won a radio competition, beating over 13,000 other British men and women. However, both were denied inclusion in the commercial space tourism club.

“Citizens’ access to space is extremely important as a tourism niche and, more importantly, for the future of humanity.” – Dirk Duran-Gibson, professor emeritus at UNM

In 1990, Akiyama spent a week in space for the Tokyo Broadcasting System where he was a reporter. Her employer paid $12 million for her trip, which promoted the 40th anniversary of her broadcast network.

Sharman was a distinguished British chemist and Member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). She responded to a radio ad from Moscow’s Narodny Bank for a free trip to space, along with 13,000 other British citizens. She was selected because of her qualifications in chemistry. In May 1991, she spent eight days in orbit on the Mir space station as part of Project Juno, an effort to normalize relations between Britain and the Soviet Union. The cost was $10 million.

These names are so often overlooked, and according to UNM Emeritus Professor Dirk Duran-Gibson the first golden age of space tourism is long forgotten.

Dirk Duran-Gibson, professor emeritus at UNM

“X-Space. Galactic Virgo. Blue Origin. Names that are familiar to us all,” Duran-Gibson said. “But what about Armadillo Aerospace, Bigelow Aerospace, Eads Astrium, XCore Aerospace, UP Aerospace and the Transformational Space Corporation, known as tSpace More than 100 companies have announced plans to join the civilian space race, but few have survived.

He argues that most people have forgotten about the first cohort of civilian space tourism proponents, such as the Space Enterprise Council, Space Frontier Foundation, Space Access Society, Space Tourism Society, Personal Spaceflight Industry, and the International Association of Space Entrepreneurs. more than 100 such organizations. According to Duran-Gibson, some are still active.

Over the past few years, the world has celebrated a trio of citizen journeys into Earth’s atmosphere. Space is a very dangerous environment and a difficult place as a travel destination. These recent “astronauts” are brave individuals, but Duran-Gibson argues that they can hardly be considered the first citizens of space.

Duran-Gibson says one of the most essential questions remains unanswered, what is considered citizen spaceflight.

“Believe it or not, there is uncertainty about the exact meaning of citizen space travel,” he said. “Is it enough to rise high in the Earth’s atmosphere? And there are different ideas about where outer space begins. Another factor is that some space authorities define citizen space travel as including only travel paid for by the space traveler. The most restrictive definition of space tourism is that the sole purpose of travel is recreational and the travel must be paid for by the space traveler.

The first space tourists
Dennis Tito was the first space tourist to pay for his own trip, a mere $20 million, in 2001. The American businessman spent his time in the international space station enjoying microgravity, music and photography. Upon his return to Earth, the mayor of Los Angeles held a press conference in his honor.

Others who followed:

2002 | Mark Shuttleworth
2005 | Gregory Olsen
2006 | Anousheh Ansari
2007 & 2009 | Charles Simonyi
2008 | Richard Garriott
2009 | Guy Laliberte

Simonyi has been to space twice, in two years, spending a total of 25 days in space. This Hungarian-American software developer built the first version of Microsoft Office and was worth $5.5 billion in 2022. His two trips cost $55 million. At the age of 13, he was selected to be Hungary’s junior astronaut. He carefully documented both trips on his missions website.

“We can and must learn from the relevant past,” Duran-Gibson said. “Citizen access to space is extremely important as a tourism niche and, more importantly, for the future of humanity. If we don’t take strong steps to create off-planet capability in terms of infrastructure, operational experience, public-private partnerships, international coalition building and technological innovation, the human race will perish with our planet.

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