Russia Still Wants to Send Tourists Around the Moon

Lunar Soyuz Credit: Space Adventures

Lunar Soyuz
Credit: Space Adventures

A long touted lunar circumnavigation for space tourists is back in the news with reports from Russia that RSC Energia now has 8 possible candidates for the mission, which would take place aboard a specially modified Soyuz.

The story from Sputniknews, actually quotes an interview from another paper Izvestia, which somewhat paradoxically (or not) made headlines last week with the announcement that Russia is considering pulling back from the International Space Station with a reduction in crew complement from 3 to 2.

Once again, the source of the current story is legitimate, in this case RSC Energia’s  Director General Vladimir Solntsev who said of the proposal:

“We have a preliminary design for upgrading the Soyuz spacecraft, which was conceived with the possibility of organizing a Moon expedition in mind. The upgraded Soyuz will be able to carry out a short flight to the Moon, which will allow it to circle the Earth’s satellite. We are considering eight potential candidates which are ready to pay for such an expedition. There is a Japanese family among them, for instance…Once we have a critical mass of confirmed applications for a trip around the Moon, we will be able to begin large-scale work.”

The lunar circumnavigation is being marketed by U.S. based Space Adventures, which has previously arranged the flights of seven different space tourists to ISS. As described by the company, the lunar trip would also begin with a flight to ISS and a 10 day acclimation period while a separate propulsion and living module boosted to LEO for rendezvous with the Soyuz in advance of departing for a destination only a select group of American astronauts and Pink Floyd have gone before.

Filmmaker James Cameron, who after all, has already been to the bottom of the ocean, has frequently been cited as one likely participant in a two tourist trip which would still require a qualified pilot for the Soyuz 3rd seat. What is different from previous stories is that rather than simply needing to fill out the second seat to jump start the mission, RSC Energia actually needs some undisclosed total number of confirmed passengers to do the hard engineering work.

The most interesting number however, may be 2023, which is the year of the first crewed launch of NASA’s SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft on what would be a superficially similar journey, absent the LEO rendezvous. Five years ago, when the Soyuz lunar flight cropped up in the news, I wrote about it in the Space Review article, Bad Moon Rising.

While some of the circumstances have changed, and Falcon Heavy still has not flown, the basic takeaway is the same:

“We are beginning to enter an era that holds great danger to NASA if its planners, and Congress, are not very careful. Quite simply, once what is possible becomes affordable, even to only a few, private operators are likely to move more quickly and creatively than their governmental counterparts.”

 

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2 Comments on "Russia Still Wants to Send Tourists Around the Moon"

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  1. Michael Smith says:

    To say that we are “entering” an era that holds great danger for NASA holds out the hope that NASA still has the potential to regain its leadership in manned spaceflight. The reality is, sadly, NASA is living on borrowed time as far as its manned spaceflight role is concerned. AS the commercial sector extends its role in the arena of manned spaceflight, with its cost reduction imperative, NASA’s inflated costing and ever extending timeline for missions will make the justification for its continued manned spaceflight program impossible. NASA exists in the realm of politics and greed, whereas the commercial sector exists in the realm of potential and profit. Greed prohibits cost reduction as it also reduces stockholder margins. Profit demands cost reduction to increase return on expenditure and expand potential for growth.

    NASA has no actual purpose for its manned spaceflight program – it is like a pin-ball bouncing off different targets: the moon, asteroids, Mars, back to the moon, ping off the ISS, ricochet off Phobos and finally into the drain. Take a look at the commercial sector and you see clear lines of projected targets. Some may fail and others succeed but the inevitability is that the passion of those dedicated to achieve dreams in the commercial sector will triumph as NASA did in program Apollo. Unlike NASA, the commercial sector will continue to push on and not stagnate after initial success like NASA did.

    NASA’s plight is in truth becoming irrelevant. It is a stepping stone for the commercial sector at the moment but once the latter becomes self-sustaining through the expansion of LEO services like orbiting hotels, lunar excursion for tourists, asteroid mining, Mars colonies – NASA will become an irrelevance to the extension of human footprint into the solar system as it wont be able to compete.

    As a non-commercial organization, NASA has no purpose in sending humans to space to do research. Medical research, experiments to unlock new technology and materials et al – these are the treasures of the commercial world, not a rationalization for the waste of public money on over costed programs.

    The ISS is serving one critical purpose – international co-operation. Now that is the stuff of politics, not commerce. That is where NASA has a role – the fostering of international co-operation. It matters not what the objective is. What matters is the fostering of global co-operation and interdependence. This is where President Kennedy was taking NASA. Let the commercial sector exploit the monetary potential of spaceflight and have NASA capitalize on the political benefits that spaceflight offers. The ISS has achieved this goal but its capacity to sustain or expand international co-operation is waning as the commercial sector pushes into this area. NASA needs to look at expanding international co-operation in space by extending the goals of manned spaceflight on a permanent basis beyond LEO as a shared journey with other countries. A co-operative program where costs are distributed among the participants makes NASA’s continued role in manned spaceflight sustainable. It’s current path of going it alone will, in comparison to the cost effective programs of the commercial sector, result in outcries about waste of public money. NASA cannot continue its current policy of manned spaceflight for much longer. This is as inevitable as the continued growth in the commercial sector of manned spaceflight.

    • Michael Argenio says:

      I don’t see NASA as the looser in this new era of private manned space flight.5It’s the pandering government contractors and their sposored politicians.
      NASA trying to work within a shrinking budget is the organization that funded these new private providers helping them take the finantial risk. NASA provided much of the government owned technology and expertese nanjed for these companies to be successful.
      Most of these companies are an investment for NASA that they can use to do their space related missions more cheaply and effectively. They are diversifying and now that the private sector has the capability they can contract to get a job done instead of being the contractor. Being a customer allows them to share the expense with other customer both government and commecial.
      No NASA isn’t going away. They will continue to be the primary customer for manned flights and science missions. They will also be the main coordinating athority for deep space communication, technology and navigation.
      NASA’s mission if anything will be expanding as the field of space utillisation expands. With more resources available at lower prices they will be able to get more done even if their budget continues to shrink.

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