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 3 of 6)
Slowly a picture began to emerge: the training that would be required, the approvals that would be needed from the space station partners, the liability waivers the company would have to secure.
Sensing that the ice was about to break, Space Adventures paid Energia $200,000 for a feasibility study, according to Faranetta. The document spelled out in detail what would be required to train, launch, and host a private spaceflight participant on the International Space Station. To be sure, it wasn’t a promise to fly paying passengers. Rather, it was a blueprint of all the obstacles they’d have to overcome first.
“The Russians took this very seriously,” says Faranetta. The study convinced Russian space officials that flying a paying non-professional to the station was safe and, just as important, legal. And it gave Space Adventures something solid to show to potential clients.
Finding that person with the special blend of money, time, and inclination to fly in space was, then as now, a major undertaking. “The challenge is not finding people who are interested,” Anderson says. “Actually, there’re a lot of people who are interested. But will they actually do it next week, or next month, or next year? Everybody’s got an excuse as to why they should wait till later.”
The Explorers Club in New York City provided many of his initial leads. The group’s annual black tie dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel was the ideal place to meet wealthy adventurers. It was there that Anderson met Richard Garriott, video game impresario and son of NASA astronaut Owen Garriott, an early Space Adventures advisor. Garriott the younger also had a strong interest in space, enough to kick in some initial investment in Space Adventures (including the money the company paid for the Energia study). Richard hoped to become customer number one himself, but the collapse of the tech bubble in 1999 wiped out much of his fortune, delaying his trip until 2008. He remains one of Space Adventures’ top investors.
In the early days, Anderson says, “I was always looking for investors, and I always had all my [briefing] stuff with me.” During a trip to Los Angeles in early 2000, he got a meeting with former NASA engineer and now successful money manager Dennis Tito. During a half-hour presentation in Tito’s Santa Monica office, Anderson was typically understated, matter-of-fact, and utterly confident that Space Adventures was going places. “You have a great vision and I love this,” he recalls Tito saying when he was through with the pitch. “But I’m really not interested in investing. I’m interested in going myself.”
Anderson didn’t skip a beat. “Interesting that you mention that,” he said. He just so happened to have in his bag proof that the Russians were practically on board with the project already. Tito was impressed. A few weeks later, he signed a contract as Space Adventures’ first customer.
The road to the launch pad was not entirely smooth. Tito had long been looking into other options for a Russian ride to orbit, and when a company called MirCorp, headed by Faranetta’s ex-colleague Jeffrey Manber, offered an earlier trip, to Mir instead of to the International Space Station, Tito jumped ship. Then, when the Mir deal cratered, he came back to Space Adventures. He even weathered the embarrassment of having NASA (temporarily) refuse his training with the cosmonauts and astronauts in Houston. But in April 2001, Dennis Tito became the first person to pay his own way into space.