We probably shouldn't call them space tourists, even in a headline. The seven people who have visited the International Space Station as paying customers of the Virginia-based booking agency Space Adventures all worked very hard—before, during, and after their flights. None of them spent their time in orbit just looking out the window and turning somersaults.
But after Canadian entrepreneur Guy Laliberté's September 2009 trip, it looked as though there might not be any more of these spaceflight participants for a while. With the U.S. space shuttle due to stop flying this year, the three-seat Russian Soyuz vehicle was booked solid by NASA and other government space agencies who still need to ferry astronauts to the station.
Now Energia, the Russian company that makes the Soyuz, has agreed to increase their production to five vehicles a year instead of four so that Space Adventures can sell three seats to commercial customers, beginning in 2013. The company says it has no lack of interest among wealthy would-be space passengers.
And that's good news. Orbital tourists like Anousheh Ansari and Richard Garriott bring a vitality to human spaceflight that will be welcome as the shuttle retires and the number of people going into orbit drops dramatically.