Way back in 2001, Russia found out the best way to irritate management at NASA was to sell seats aboard their Soyuz spacecraft and let tourists float around on the International Space Station. Since that time, only seven space tourists have gotten the chance to see what the interior of a $100 billion dollar space station smells like. That number may now get a bump to eight with the help of British soprano and actress Sarah Brightman.
Today Reuters reported that an unnamed source inside the Russian space industry has said that Brightman will be the next tourist to make the journey to the ISS, sometime during 2015. This will make the 52-year-old star of The Phantom of the Opera and…ugh…Repo the Genetic Opera the first space tourist to make the trip since 2009. This won’t be Brightman’s first brush with the space tourism industry, as she partnered with Virgin Galactic to start the Brightman STEM scholarship program. The program will help women in the U.S. pursue their education in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) throughout a four-year college term. I guess this means she decided she wouldn’t be satisfied with the short little suborbital hop that Virgin Galactic could provide.
The decision to generate some side cash for Russia’s space program through tourism has always been a thorn in the side of the NASA establishment. When Dennis Tito, the first “official” space tourist (NASA has had a history of granting politicians and wealthy foreign nationals unnecessary trips to space throughout the shuttle program), was preparing for his shot to get into space NASA flat-out refused to let it happen. Russia then informed the U.S. that they were also partners in the construction of the ISS and were doing it anyway, probably invoking the Russian translation of “eat me” during the exchange. Since then Russia has been making a reported minimum of $20 million per space-tourist flight, while NASA has steadfastly refused to take any “official” space tourist money.
So far the coordinators of Russia’s space tourism program, Space Adventures, and Sarah Brightman’s agent have neither confirmed nor denied the story.