Space Adventures won’t reveal who has reserved the first ticket for its lunar mission until passenger number two signs. Movie director James Cameron, who has been angling to get into space for more than a decade, is said to be a likely prospect, but neither he nor the company will comment. In a recent interview with PBS science reporter Miles O’Brien, Anderson described the ideal private space traveler. “It’s not something like climbing Mt. Everest, or that requires a great deal of physical fortitude, or being in shape like running a marathon,” he said. “Those things are actually much harder. It’s something that requires a few months of your time and some optimism about the future. It’s really more an intellectual venture than it is a physical venture.”
The candidate almost certainly has to be a billionaire, or close to it. Fortunately for Anderson, there are currently some 1,200 billionaires in the world, 100 in Russia alone. (Manber, the veteran of MirCorp and other commercial space dealings, thinks the ideal candidate for the lunar mission might be someone from a country that has never had its own space program, or a Russian looking to help shore up his country’s space industry.)
Once that second customer puts down a deposit, says Anderson, metal will be bent at Energia, training will proceed, and preparations for the test flight will begin. From that point to the first tourists swinging around the moon: about four years.
If the first moon mission is successful, Anderson sees many more lunar flybys in Space Adventures’ future. In fact, he hopes to make the second or third trip himself. And from there, he says, a lunar orbital mission can’t be far behind. As for the ultimate adventure—walking on the moon—it’s not on the immediate horizon for Space Adventures or its Russian partners. Richard Garriott figures a commercial manned landing mission would cost more than a billion dollars. “We think the market for people who can afford to land themselves on the moon and get back off is pretty close to zero,” he says. Purely from a business point of view, it doesn’t make sense. Yet.
On the day of my visit to Space Adventures, Anderson had flown in from Seattle the night before for meetings at the office and on Capitol Hill. He hit the ground running, calling a contact in the car on the way in, looking for information about a billionaire prospect with whom he would meet in three weeks. His overnight bag and briefcase stood at the ready near his desk; he would jet back to the West Coast later that night. Somehow, space didn’t seem too far beyond.
Michael Belfiore is the author of Rocketeers: How a Visionary Band of Business Leaders, Engineers, and Pilots Is Boldly Privatizing Space (Harper, 2008).