The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews
 


 
couple in space
It’s only a matter of time before orbital space tourists explore the possibilities of sex in space. (credit: Space Tourism Society)

The first orbital honeymoon: the next step in space tourism?

2005 may not have been a good year for George Bush or for the US movie business, but it’s been a great year for the space tourism industry. In October, the history-making SpaceShipOne, the first privately-developed manned vehicle ever to make it into space, was recognized when the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum hung the craft in their Milestones of Flight gallery alongside the Wright Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, and the Apollo 11 command module. The next step is underway as Burt Rutan plans to build SpaceShipTwo for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which was already having a certain succès d’estime by getting two semi-famous Irishmen into a hissy spat over which one was the first to sign up for a suborbital flight. Even better, they have reportedly received thousands of applications and millions of dollars in down payments.

Meanwhile, Space Adventures and their Russian partners continue to sell $20-million dollar rides on Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). A Japanese millionaire will be going up in 2006 and other customers will almost certainly follow.

A tourism mission around the Moon will be spectacular proof that space tourism’s role in human space exploration is going to be a permanent part of the landscape. NASA and the other government space agencies are learning to accommodate this fact.

Private space travel is now an adventure that some men (so far no women) believe is worth the price, not only in money but also in time and effort. No one can simply plunk down the money and expect to fly into orbit. They have to train for more than half a year, learn at least some Russian and prove that they are fit enough to survive the trip. It is not a simple jaunt that any rich man can buy, but a serious challenge.

Last July, Space Adventures proposed the next big opportunity for potential space tourists, a trip around the Moon that would cost $100 million. Sources indicate that they have found a few interested parties but that they are still a long way from firming up a deal. Such a trip—which would not even involve going into orbit around the Moon but instead be a simple flyby—will be spectacular proof that space tourism’s role in human space exploration is going to be a permanent part of the landscape. NASA and the other government space agencies are learning to accommodate this fact.

However, for someone looking to make a major breakthrough in space tourism that costs less than the Moon trip, there is one possibility. It was hinted at a couple of years ago when Space Adventures announced that they could provide two seats on a single Soyuz flight. At the time some observers grasped the possibilities and someone quickly called this “the honeymoon in space.” There is, as far as we know, no hard and fast requirement that the two persons who make the flight be married or anything else. If a couple wants to be publicly known as the first members of what the late G. Harry Stine called the “Three Dolphin Club” they can pay $40 million for the privilege.

Thinking about it as a “honeymoon” is more than just an excellent public relations ploy: it provides a mental framework that people can be fairly comfortable talking about. After all, the one time that it is universally acceptable to refer, however coyly, to sex is on a couple’s wedding night or during their honeymoon. This has the added advantage of somewhat reducing the initial “giggle factor” which, once upon a time, made the whole idea of space tourism seem faintly ridiculous.

When the happy couple does get up to the ISS, the question of privacy will arise. Since they will have been transported by the Russians, it will be up to our friends at Moscow’s mission control to provide the necessary private space. The Soyuz capsule and its service module are probably too small, but given what generations of teenagers have been able to accomplish in the back seats of cars this may not be out of the question. If the decision is made to use a space station module careful preparations will have to be made. It will be interesting to hear how the ISS partnership will plan for this.

Thinking about it as a “honeymoon” is more than just an excellent public relations ploy: it provides a mental framework that people can be fairly comfortable talking about.

In 18th century Europe, and before, a royal wedding could only happen after years of careful planning and complex international negotiations. It’s amusing to note that the first space honeymoon may require a comparable effort. Space Adventures and the Russians were able to overcome quite a few obstacles that stood in the way of Dennis Tito’s groundbreaking flight, so there is no reason to think that they would not be able to make suitable arrangements of this type of flight.

As far as we know, and in spite of internet hoaxes and unverified reports from France, no humans have ever “done it” in space. The romance and commitment implied in a marriage and the romance and commitment involved in human spaceflight, even for space tourism, nicely complement each other.


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