Extraterrestrial Outfitter

If you’re planning an off-world vacation, there’s only one name to call: Eric Anderson

Don’t call us travel agents, says Eric Anderson, the 37-year-old founder of Space Adventures. Their business is more like mounting Everest expeditions than booking trips to Europe. (Eric Long)
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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?”

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.”

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