ABC News is reporting that Phantom of the Opera actress/singer Sarah Brightman outbid NASA for a seat on a Soyuz flight to the International Space Station. Brightman reportedly bumped a NASA astronaut from the flight by agreeing to pay more than $51 million. (Update: NASA denies that any of its astronauts were bumped from the Soyuz flight. Update 2: Sarah Brightman has made an official announcement, as expected.)
Whether this story is true or not remains to be confirmed. Space news reporting by the mainstream media tends to be spotty. That was illustrated earlier this week when an Irish newspaper reported a wild story by author J.K. Rowling, who claimed she had turned down a seat on the Space Shuttle. We noted the many problems with that story. (The ABC News article reports that NASA has, not surprisingly, scotched that story.)
This story would be a bit surprising, if it turns out to be true. In the past, the Russians have charged more than commercial customers for Soyuz flights. (NASA is known to be a difficult customer.)
Assuming the story is true, it’s an interesting footnote in the history of citizen space exploration. It could lead to some interesting bidding wars when US companies such as Boeing, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada begin flights to the International Space Station.
There might also be some political danger here. Members of Congress have made it quite clear they view citizen space explorers as mere joyriders, whose presence is to be tolerated, and not in the same league as government astronauts. If a NASA astronaut gets bumped from a commercial ride, there will probably be howls of protest from Congress and sanctimonious reminders of how much money Congress has invested to help get commercial crew capabilities off the ground.
Sarah Brightman has also purchased a ticket for a suborbital flight on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two, which is quite a bit cheaper ($200,000). If Brightman has as much interest as this report indicates, she might become a frequent space traveler.
Coincidentally, Brightman’s current world tour is called “Dreamchaser”, not to be confused with the Dream Chaser from Sierra Nevada.
Update: NASA Watch is upset.