Aerospace major Boeing announced its entry into the space tourism market in partnership with its Space Adventures, and the partnership hopes to sell seats on rocket trips to the International Space Station very soon.
Published media reports said the two companies agreed to establish a space taxi system that will launch its passengers on to a low-Earth orbit before 2016.
While Boeing has decades of experience in building rockets, Space Adventures has organized seven trips to the Space Station on board the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, a report published in the Washington Post says.
The space flights will be targeted at wealthy individuals, private companies, non-NASA Federal agencies and countries that need access to space. Trips to the Soyuz would be priced competitively, the companies said.
The last civilian to fly to the Soyuz was Guy Laliberte, founder of the Canadian entertainment company Cirque du Soleil, who reportedly paid $35 million for a 10-day trip in October 2009. However, Eric Anderson, cofounder and chairman of Space Adventure, believes that cost of space tourism will drop as customers increase.
I know it'll never be never be $40,000 or $4,000, if it doesn't start off at $40 million... We'll get there. Until launch technology radically changes, the price is still going to be quite expensive, Anderson was quoted as saying by Associated Press.
One of the biggest hurdles facing Boeing's space tourism ambitions is the clash among US lawmakers over what the next step should be for NASA as it prepares to close its Space Shuttle program.
Some lawmakers prefer rockets and spacecraft to be owned and operated by federal agencies, while others want to invest in companies like Boeing that are keen to develop the space equivalent of airlines.
A report published in the The New York Times said competition, the thinking goes, will drive down the costs of getting into space, leading to a profitable new American industry and freeing more of NASA's budget for deep-space missions.
The issue here is that significant federal funding is necessary to help private sector development. John Elbon, program manager of Boeing's commercial crew transportation system, told the Los Angeles Times that he believed that funding was essential for the emerging space tourism industry to succeed.
Currently, budget proposals for government funding range from $6 billion over five years to a mere $150 million over three.