Eric Anderson, president and CEO of Space Adventures, co-founded the company in 1998 with several former astronauts and leaders in the aerospace and adventure travel industries. Since 2001, Space Adventures has sent seven commercial passengers on orbital spaceflight missions to the International Space Station on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Today, Anderson has a new project—planning the first commercial manned lunar mission. I recently talked to Anderson about the mission and some of the logistical hurdles in preparing for a trip to the moon.
You’re planning a circumlunar mission with the Russian Soyuz. What’s the latest with these plans?
We’re working very hard on this. I think it’s a natural. The Soyuz, as many people know, was originally designed as a translunar spacecraft. We’ve discussed the mission with prospective clients, and we’re working on developing the program with the Russians.
How long will the mission last?
There are two variants of the mission. One is a visit to the International Space Station, where the crew would visit the ISS for about 10 days, and then they would leave the ISS and do a circumlunar trajectory. They’d spend six days around the moon and then a direct descent to the Earth for a total of 16 days. The other option is a direct launch to the moon, which would be six days there and back.
What’s the time line for the first mission?
There’s no time line yet. But when announced, it’s certainly doable within a three- to five-year timeframe.
There are three important issues.
1. The reentry from a lunar trajectory is about 1.4 times faster, so 40 percent faster than a reentry from an orbital flight. (Think of it like a slingshot—because it needs to go farther, it has to go faster going out and faster coming back.) So at these faster speeds, the heat shield on the vehicle has to be stronger.
2. The communications systems has to be more powerful. Between Earth and orbit is a couple hundred miles. Between Earth and the moon is a couple hundred thousand miles. We do this communication all the time, but the Soyuz would have to be modified. It requires a deep space antenna.
3. We’d like to see a bigger window on the Soyuz itself so the participants could have a unique view of the moon as they go around it. It’s an eight to 12-inch porthole, but we’d like to see it twice as big.
What’s the price tag?
Roughly $100 million per person.
Does the Google Lunar X Prize factor into this mission?
It doesn’t factor into this mission, but it does generate interest for lunar commercial activity. I’m supportive of the prize.
The space industry is changing dramatically these days. What role will Space Adventures be playing in the industry’s future?
I think Space Adventures will continue to be the leading commercial human spaceflight marketing company. I think the market can grow a lot more.
Your clients are often called “space tourists,” but some people don’t like that description. Do you think it’s accurate?
It depends. Some are space tourists. Some are private astronauts. Richard Garriott certainly considers himself a private astronaut; he filled his mission with science experiments. Some people like Greg Olsen consider themselves spaceflight participants. For the orbital missions I’d shy away from the term space tourists because the of the serious training that’s required. But let’s be honest: Every astronaut, even those paid by the government, does it because it’s an incredible experience. It’s perfectly fair to say that despite the fact that there’s great science work going on in space, spaceflight a dream of a lifetime.
Click here to read a Q&A with Greg Olsen.