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Boeing enters space tourism partnership

An artistic rendering of Boeing's Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft. CST-100 in orbit (inset).

MINNEAPOLIS (AP): Boeing and a space tourism company announced a deal to sell tickets on rocket rides to the International Space Station. Now Boeing just has to build a spaceship.

Space Adventures Ltd has already been selling seats aboard the Russian-built Soyuz spaceship. Its last passenger was Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, who paid USD 35 million for a 10-day trip.

Now, Boeing says Space Adventures will sell seats on its planned CST-100, which would carry seven people. NASA has been encouraging aerospace companies like Boeing to develop spaceships that can carry government-sponsored astronauts as well as paying tourists to the space station. The idea is to spread around the cost of NASA missions while also boosting privately funded space efforts.

Big questions remain. Congressional funding isn't assured. And Boeing and Space Adventures will have competition from a California company called SpaceX, which is also seeking NASA work for space station missions.

So far, seven customers have ridden on eight flights through Spacecraft Adventures.

The trips will be for millionaires, at least for now.

Boeing and Space Adventures executives didn't have pricing details, but said on a conference call that prices would be "competitive" with the cost for a flight on the Soyuz craft.

The more people fly to space, the sooner the cost will come down, said Eric Anderson, co-founder and chairman of Space Adventures. He said people ask him when it will cost, say, USD40,000, or USD4,000, instead of close to USD 40 million.

"I don't know," he said, "but I know that it'll never be USD 40,000, or USD 4,000, if it doesn't start off at USD 40 million. ...We'll get there. Until launch technology radically changes, the price is still going to be quite expensive."

Boeing's CST-100 is a reusable capsule with a round bottom and pointed top that, from the outside, bears some resemblance to the Apollo capsules launched beginning in the 1960s. Boeing is doing design and testing work now, and hopes to have the craft ready in 2015.

Boeing plans to build two at first, which would be used for testing and then refurbished for missions. Each spaceship would need about six months in between flights to have its heat shield restored and its systems tested, said John Elbon, vice president and program manager for Boeing Commercial Crew Transportation Systems.

"Together we can open space to more people, and expand a new market, and I find that terribly exciting," said Brewster Shaw, a former astronaut and vice president and general manager of Boeing's Space Exploration division.


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