Space school: Two months before his trip to the International Space Station, Charles Simonyi experiences zero gravity aboard a Russian aircraft.
Garriott: We really did sell my seat to Dennis Tito. I got wiped out by the dot-com crash and had to rebuild in order to find my way back to space.
Olsen: It was June 18, 2003. I was sitting in Starbucks reading the New York Times, with a great big coffee. There was a story about Space Adventures. And I said, “Wow. This sounds like something I’d like to do!”
Simonyi: The way you get there is very simple. You call Space Adventures.
Olsen: I looked them up on the Web, and the next thing I knew, [Space Adventures CEO] Eric Anderson was at my door. We hit it off immediately. In October, they took me over to a launch in Baikonur [the Russian launch site, located in Kazakhstan]. I met some of the people in the Russian Space Agency. I visited Star City. I went up in a MiG-29 and really had the experience. That part was a freebie. It definitely whetted my appetite. After that, I said, “Yeah, wow! I want to go.”
Shuttleworth: Space Adventures certainly helped with introductions, but I get a bit irritated when they present themselves as having facilitated everything.
Simonyi: I made the decision to go up very, very slowly. I actually went twice to Baikonur as a normal tourist, not a space tourist.
Olsen: I call it a “space participant.” But call it space tourist if you want.
Garriott: Just for the record, I hate both of those terms. I prefer the term “private astronaut” or “private cosmonaut,” or ”civilian astronaut” or “civilian cosmonaut.”
Simonyi: The launch is amazing just in terms of the kind of access that you get. We were partying next to the fully fueled rocket–practically touching it. We were laughing, talking, shouting greetings to the astronauts. It’s very confidence inspiring. You know something that you can party around is not dangerous. It’s a little bit like going onto a movie lot to watch the actor kissing the woman, and the director is saying, “Well you could be doing that.” And I said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” And then Andersonsaid, “No, no. We are working with a client right now.”
Olsen: I had had a collapsed lung. They were obviously hyper about that. Made some issues about it. Finally, they accepted me in the program. In April of 2004, I went into training.
Simonyi: [Anderson] kind of just kind of looked at me and said, “Yeah, you could do it, I’m sure.”
Ansari: I started training as a backup, not even knowing if I would fly. Simonyi was already in line to fly.
Shuttleworth: I had to build a support team in Star City. Because, again, there was nothing from Space Adventures. It was modeled on the little offices that the European Space Agency and NASA maintain there, but on a much smaller scale.
Simonyi: Now they’ve created this program [the Orbital Mission Explorers Circle], and you pay your money and then you get an option for a seat. You invest into a position in the queue, and then every time a seat comes up, you can pass or you can take it. It’s a tradable position. You can sell your option for whatever the market will take. It’s very thinly traded. I don’t think any have traded yet. That guy [Google cofounder] Sergey Brin bought the first option.
Shuttleworth: The sticker price at my stage was $20 million. But the actual price paid is somewhat variable.
Garriott: Unfortunately, I am an insider, so I can’t really get discounts. I paid $30 million.
Simonyi: The price is $35 million. It used to be $25, and now it’s $35. The option price is much less. I bought an option–I said, “What the heck? I might want to go again!”
Shuttleworth: It’s being streamlined now, because there have been quite a few folks who have gone through the process, and because Space Adventures has actually bought seats in anticipation of their use, which they hadn’t done before.
Ansari: Three weeks before the flight, the guy who was flying, Dice-K [Daisuke Enomoto], the primary crew member, had some medical problems and failed one of his medical qualifications. That’s when they offered me to take his place. As you can imagine, this is not one of those opportunities that comes that easily, so without hesitation–and out of disbelief in a way, too–I just had to say yes.
All those who decide to go to the International Space Station must learn Russian and train at Star City, near Moscow, for at least three months.