Russia Unveils Space Shuttle for Tourists
American businessmen and Russian engineers unveiled the first space shuttle designed exclusively for tourism on Thursday, paving the way for tourists on a budget to taste life in zero gravity.
For under $100,000 would-be astronauts will be able to take an hour-long flight aboard the ``Cosmopolis XXI``, a snub-nosed rocket-powered shuttle about the size of a minivan.
The trip includes only three minutes of weightlessness, but costs a mere sliver of the $20 million reportedly paid by space tourism pioneer Dennis Tito last year for a week on the International Space Station.
``We know the potential market is huge,`` said Eric Anderson, president of the U.S.-based Space Adventures company which organised Tito`s flight.
``We literally have people waiting to go who have already paid us, who have said /they/ want to be the first to fly.``
The shuttle, a joint project by Space Adventures and Russia`s Myasishchev Design Bureau, is due to start regular flights by 2004-05.
Myasishchev was the builder of Buran, the Soviet Union`s space shuttle, which never took a crew into space and is now an attraction next to the roller coasters in Moscow`s Gorky Park.
``All the background material, everything has been done. It is just a matter of time,`` Anderson, a life-long space buff, said as he stood by a full-size model of the Cosmopolis.
The shuttle will be launched with a carrier aircraft and then boost itself to a peak altitude of 101 km /62 miles/ before coming back to Earth.
The 3.5 tonne spacecraft can take three crew members - a pilot and two passengers, said Leonid Sokolov, head designer of the carrier craft. The whole trip takes about an hour.
Space Adventures quotes prices ``from $98,000`` for the trip, which requires four days of space flight orientation, including zero-gravity and high-altitude jet flight training.
Space Adventures has also been behind the planned space flight of the world's second space tourist, South African internet millionaire Mark Shuttleworth, set to fly from Russia`s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 25.
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