International Space Station (ISS)

Actress/singer Sarah Brightman is still a cosmonaut in training, but her plans to visit the International Space Station may be in peril, according to an article published by RIA Novosti.

The decision is said to rest in the hands of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and NASA.

In 2001, NASA attempted to prevent Dennis Tito from becoming the first self-funded citizen space explorer to visit the International Space Station. At the time, NASA’s actions were based on highly charged politics and disagreements between Roscosmos and NASA, as well as apparent personal animosity on the part of NASA Administrator Dan Goldin. United States Senator (and former Mercury astronaut) John Glenn said the time had not yet come for the United States government to “permit more people in space.” (He did not bother to mention how he had used his political office to snag a free ride for himself on the Space Shuttle.) Dan Goldin even questioned Tito’s patriotism.

Fortunately, that ugly atmosphere is long past. NASA is generally supportive of citizen space exploration these days, and there is no political opposition to Brightman’s trip. Rather, it is operational considerations that may interfere.

Soyuz taxi flights normally visit the International Space Station for a period of about eight days. NASA and Roscosmos are considering extending a 2015 visit to one month, however. If that happens, Brightman would have to give up her seat to a scientific researcher, who would perform some short-term experiments aboard the space station.

Roscosmos manned space flight director Alexei Krasnov had previously indicated that Russia might consider carrying two paying customers on the 2015 taxi flight. So, it would be theoretically possible for Russia to fly Brightman and the researcher. It’s unknown whether Brightman would want to spend that long aboard the space station, however, and pricing policy to longer-duration stays have not been worked out.

This situation points to multiple deficiencies in the current system for citizen space explorers. A more flexible (and, preferably, much cheaper) means of Earth-to-orbit transportation is needed. Beyond that, however, there is a need for an on-orbit destination, such as Bigelow’s Space Station Alpha, which is not subject to the conflicting requirements of ISS. This is especially true since the expected start of SpaceX crew taxi service to the International Space Station has been pushed back to 2017, due to the failure of Congress to provide full funding, and may slip further due to the NASA budget sequester. (The plan of record calls for ISS to continue operating until 2020, although that date may be extended again. The station was originally scheduled to be deorbited in 2016. It can, no doubt, be operated safely for some time beyond 2020, but Boeing engineers have warned there are limits to how long the lifetime of ISS modules can be stretched.)

In the near term, it’s possible that some individuals who can afford orbital missions will choose to forgo them for suborbital flights which will be available on much more convenient schedules. Others will want to do both. (Brightman has purchased a ticket for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two as well as a ride on Soyuz. It will be interesting to see which she flies on first.) In the mid-term, we expect that both orbital and suborbital exploration will grow, but suborbital will grow faster due to the marked price advantage.

If Brightman’s ISS trip gets delayed, it’s conceivable she could end up exchanging her ticket for a trip to Bigelow’s Alpha station, which Bigelow expects to begin launching in 2015. If that happens, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté, who visited ISS in 2009, might go down in history as the last citizen space explorer to visit that station.

BigelowAerospace Space Station Alpha

One thing seems clear: ISS is unlikely to evolve into “Alpha Town,” as Rick Tumlinson predicted in 1997. Bigelow’s Alpha station is much more likely to evolve into Alpha Town than ISS is.

Written by Astro1 on March 16th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Greg Zsidisin commented

    I’d go a little further. Brightman and other celebrity space-goers (including previous might band together to help fill the manifest for one of the first visits to a Bigelow station, to help kickstart that effort. If the per-seat prices are really that much cheaper than Soyuz, and perhaps the training is less demanding, more high-profile people should be available.

    By the way, Rick Tumlinson presented his Alpha Town concept at the ISDC I chaired in midtown Manhattan in 1996. Interesting to see what has come and gone since then.

    March 18, 2013 at 9:49 am
      Greg Zsidisin commented

      Oops: I meant to write “previous citizen space explorers”

      March 18, 2013 at 9:50 am
    Ben Muniz commented

    Just to clarify, Rick Tumlinson “proposed” the AlphaTown concept for ISS, he did not “predict” it. For example, he wrote quite clearly that “I believe, if this model is adopted …” and “If Alphatown is adopted as our model …”.

    The arc of the AAS/COTS/CRS/CCDev/etc. programs could be seen as a small step in evolving ISS toward “Alpha Town,” although the schedule of progress and ultimate effectiveness of those programs can certainly be debated.

    April 1, 2013 at 12:09 pm
      admin commented

      “If X, then Y” is what scientists call a prediction.

      NASA and Congress have followed the “Alpha Town” model. They created COTS and CCDev so that companies could resupply ISS “commercially.” They also created the “spaceport authority” Tumlinson called for, in the form of CASIS and the “National Laboratory.”

      Yet, there is no evidence ISS is evolving toward Alpha Town.

      Tumlinson, of course, would argue that these things were not implemented in exactly the way he wanted — but that’s the point. The late G. Harry Stine used to say, “be careful what you ask for,” but “New Space” leaders were (and are) too arrogant to listen to “old space” veterans like Harry Stine.

      Stine predicted that any attempt to privatize or commercialize government assets such as the Space Shuttle or ISS would fail. He knew that government requirements and commercial requirements were very different. (“An elephant is a mouse built to government specifications.”) He called for commercial systems designed to commercial specifications, for commercial customers.

      “New Space” uses commercial and free-enterprise rhetoric, similar to Stine’s, but the similarity ends there. Instead of truly commercial systems designed for commercial customers, it calls for “commercial” systems that are designed primarily for government customers, in response to government RFPs, and now under government acquisition rules (FARs). The result is that companies like SpaceX are being driven to adopt NASA human-rating requirements and other standards that will drive up costs and likely make their systems unsuitable for commercial customers. This problem was pointed out recently by former NASA Space Shuttle manager Wayne Hale. Again, “New Space” won’t listen.

      April 1, 2013 at 1:29 pm
    Russell Everett commented

    Sarah Brightman, like some others, deeply wants to travel to the space station. Sarah is no doubt one of the most intelligent individuals on the planet. Her life has been compiled not only with unique innate mental abilities, but a life of the world’s arts, languages, geographies and if only if you know her, the world’s sounds. She is at simplest a brilliant artist with an ability to absorb quantitatively and qualitatively. To view Ms. Brightman as a “wealthy commercial” customer is to see our environment as an endless resource.

    February 24, 2014 at 10:34 am
      RUSSELL EVERETT commented


      March 3, 2014 at 12:59 pm