Space Adventures, a company based in Arlington, Va., has already sent two tourists into orbit. On Wednesday, it is to unveil an agreement with Russian space officials to send two passengers on a voyage lasting 10 to 21 days, depending partly on its itinerary and whether it includes the International Space Station.
A roundtrip ticket will cost $100 million.
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Eric Anderson, the chief executive of Space Adventures, said he believed the trip could be accomplished as early as 2008. Anderson said he had already received expressions of interest from a few potential clients.
The Soyuz vehicle to be used does not have the power to reach the moon on its own, so the Russians have devised a plan to send up a booster. The Soyuz would dock with the booster, either in low Earth orbit or at the International Space Station.
The booster would take the passengers the rest of the way. The price of the two tickets, Anderson said, would pay for the costs of the moon shot. His company's demographic research, he said, suggests that 500 to 1,000 people in the world can afford to do this.
"It's the same number of people who could afford to buy a $100 million yacht," Anderson added. Two people who have already paid Space Adventures to go into orbit, at a reported $20 million apiece, applauded the new initiative though they said they were not sure they would try the moon orbit.
Dennis Tito, a financier who in 2001 became the first space tourist, said that he found the idea fascinating but added that he doubted he would make such a trip. Having just turned 65, and with the moon orbit at least a few years away, he said he might be too old for the rigors of the voyage.
"I would be considering it if I were younger, and I had that kind of money to spare," Tito said.
Another Space Adventures client, Greg Olsen, who made millions in the sale of his camera technology company, Sensors Unlimited, is preparing to visit the space station for several days in October. Of the moon trip, he said, "It's certainly intriguing, and it's something I'd like to do."
Will he buy a ticket, then? "One trip at a time," he replied.
The trip seems feasible, said John M. Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. "As a nontechnical person, I don't see any technical showstoppers," Dr. Logsdon said, "if people are crazy enough to do it."
And, he added, it would make "a lot of money for the Russians."
Christopher C. Kraft, a former director of the Johnson Space Center, said his feelings about the enterprise were mixed. "I think it would be a fantastic journey," he said. "I could see why, if I had the price of the ticket and could use the money that way, that it would be tempting to go."
But Kraft added that the flight would be cramped and probably extremely unpleasant. With three people in a small Soyuz craft for an extended trip, he said, "I imagine that you could endure that, but, man, it would be tough."
Anderson of Space Adventures said the craft had about as much room as a sport utility vehicle. "Will it be cramped? Yes," he said. "But will it be doable? Yes."
He noted that the Gemini capsule was smaller than the Soyuz, and that the astronauts James A. Lovell and Frank Borman orbited the Earth for 14 days in the Gemini 7 mission in 1965.
But Kraft, who was the flight director for that mission, recalled that Lovell and Borman were miserable. They complained bitterly that the trip was like "14 days in a men's room," and Kraft said that he had to talk them out of ending the mission early. "They wanted to get out of there," he said.
Anderson said the timing of the announcement was not meant to tweak the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. "We believe private space flight and space exploration can go hand in hand, and can coexist and benefit each other," he said. Government, he said, should focus "on things that private companies cannot do," like exploring other planets. His company's system, he said, could eventually be a subcontractor, offering transportation services to a government moon base.
"I just love the idea of demonstrating that things can be done for less money than people thought, and paradigms can be shifted," he said. "Space flight can be opened up."
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