If you're planning an off-world vacation, there's only one name to call: Eric Anderson
- By Michael Belfiore
- Air & Space magazine, March 2012
(Page 2 of 6)
As the Soviet Union broke up, so did its space program, and Russian space organizations like Energia, makers of the Soyuz and Mir, were left to strike their own deals. Chris Faranetta, who would later become a vice president at Space Adventures, recalls those “crazy, crazy times” in the fledgling Russian commercial space business. Faranetta had started his career working on the Lunar Prospector mission at Gerard O’Neill’s pioneering Space Studies Institute. At an international space conference in 1988, he struck up a conversation with officials from Energia, and asked if he could help market their technologies in the West. Three years later, he and Jeffrey Manber, another young American space entrepreneur, opened the offices of NPO Energia in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., to explore, among other things, cooperation with NASA.
When Space Adventures entered the fray in 1998, establishing good connections in Russia was a must. Company co-founder Mike McDowell already had been arranging for private explorers (including Titanic director James Cameron) to ride in Russian deep-water vehicles. Faranetta joined Space Adventures in early 1999. “What I brought to the table was the connection to Energia,” he says. Sergey Kostenko had led a Russian team competing for the X PRIZE, and was soon “very well known by all the senior space management,” says Faranetta. Marsel Gubaydullin, who had been the official photographer in the cosmonaut village of Star City, also signed on. When Space Adventures client Anousheh Ansari was introduced to him before her 2006 orbital flight, she was told, “Marsel knew everybody in Star City.”
As his team fell into place, Anderson put together deals with Russian service providers for ersatz “space” experiences, like rides to “the edge of space” in a MiG-25 fighter. Space Adventures no longer offers that package, but more than 7,000 people have paid its subsidiary ZERO-G several thousand dollars each to experience weightlessness in a modified Boeing 727.
Always, though, Anderson kept looking for a way that his customers could experience actual spaceflight. “The way the Russians work is, they sort of say ‘No’ to everything,” he explains. “And then eventually they tell you the reasons.” His task, in the early days of Space Adventures, was to ferret out the reasons. It took patience.
“Well, [a Soyuz flight to the International Space Station] might be possible,” he recalls being told by one Russian official, “but we don’t think you could find anybody who could pay enough money.”
“Well, okay,” replied Anderson. “Assume that we would.”
“They’d have to pass the medical exam.”
“Okay, what’s the medical exam?”