- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2001

Eric Anderson looks like an average guy, but he helped a wealthy California financier hitch an extraordinary ride deep into space.

And he has the connections to do it again.

Mr. Anderson, 26, the chief executive of Space Adventures Ltd., a space-travel company in Arlington, brokered a deal with the Russian Aviation and Space Agency to take Dennis Tito to the International Space Station earlier this month.

The trip by Mr. Tito, who developed the Wilshire 5000 stock index, has generated interest in the lofty goal of making space a tourist destination. Of the 402 persons who have made the trip to space including astronauts, three members of Congress, a Japanese reporter and other private citizens Mr. Tito was the first to pay for a ride. If space-tourism companies succeed in carrying out their plans, he won't be the last.

"It was a great gateway to developing the industry. [Mr. Tito] definitely advanced the cause," said Mr. Anderson, who sat in his office behind a cluttered desk with three open laptop computers.

He is building a new kind of adventure company.

Space Adventures, a 3-year-old privately held company, markets zero-gravity flights on a Russian space agency-owned cargo plane for $5,400 each and supersonic flights on Russian air force-owned aircraft. Those trips cost from $3,400 to $13,000, depending on the plane.

The company also is marketing suborbital trips, even though the aircraft that will take people into low orbit hasn't been built. Suborbital trips qualify as trips to space and take people about 70 miles above the earth, but they don't orbit the globe. Space Adventures won't offer them at least until 2003, but 100 persons already have agreed to pay $98,000 to take the journey.

Fewer people have expressed interest in taking the next trip to the International Space Station, a trip that also is likely to include the Russian space agency acting as host for a Space Adventures client.

"We work with them because they are receptive in working with us and they are commercially minded," Mr. Anderson said.

Mr. Anderson won't name his prospective clients, but "Titanic" director James Cameron is one of those willing to pay the astronomical prices for a space journey. Not only has he spoken publicly about his interest in making the trip, but also Mr. Cameron paid the company to take him on a zero-gravity flight last summer in Moscow, where Space Adventures has an office.

Mr. Tito also paid Space Adventures to take him on a zero-gravity flight in May 2000. last May. He took a supersonic flight, too, and two months later signed a contract with Mr. Anderson's company to take the space flight.

Space Adventures is one of a handful of companies developing plans to take people to space that view Mr. Tito's trip as a boon for their industry.

"Dennis Tito demonstrated that there are people who want to go to space to experience zero gravity and are willing to pay the big bucks to do it," Space Island Group Inc. President Gene Meyers said.

Space Island, based in West Covina, Calif., plans to build as many as seven space stations and a fleet of 75 to 100 shuttles that will take people on excursions lasting seven days. The first phase of Space Island's project includes building a single space station and six space shuttles by 2007 at an estimated cost of $12 billion.

While the company may seem to have lofty goals, Mr. Meyers said consumer interest in space travel supports the massive investment.

A study by Kelly Space & Technology Inc., a California company that plans to build an airplane able to travel to space, found that while 56 percent of the 2,022 persons it surveyed in October have no hesitation traveling to space, the estimated cost of the excursions could prove to be a significant hurdle. Just 12 percent of the people surveyed who earn $50,000 to $100,000 annually said they are willing to pay $100,000 for a ticket to space.

Space Island will charge from $1 million to $5 million for a week-long stay in space.

The hope is that prices fall as the technology develops to take more than one person to space at one time, Mr. Meyers said.

"We think that in the beginning, there is going to be a bidding war because we will only be able to take a certain number of people," he said.

Not only do companies with space-tourism plans hope they can generate interest among consumers, but they also hope the National Aeronautics and Space Administration embraces them. NASA opposed Mr. Tito's trip partly because the International Space Station still is under construction. The agency eventually relented, but the trip gave space-travel advocates a bad reputation because they accommodated Mr. Tito over the space agency's objections, said John Logsdon, a professor at George Washington University and director of the school's Space Policy Institute.

"That set a bad precedent," he said.

Private citizens shouldn't travel to the International Space Station, said Mr. Logsdon, who supports space tourism. Instead, they should travel only to space hotels like the ones Mr. Meyers envisions.

"There is no technical reason that someone can't go to space, but it should be done under the appropriate circumstances," Mr. Logsdon said.

But space-travel advocates think NASA blundered by forcing an American to travel to space aboard a Russian spacecraft, instead of one belonging to the U.S. space agency.

"I think NASA missed the boat on this one by trying to limit access to space only to astronauts," Kelly Space & Technology Chief Operating Officer Michael J. Gallo said.

NASA and the other space agencies that are part of the International Space Station project are working on rules the agencies will follow when they want to take civilians to space, including what training civilians should undergo. The rules are expected to be complete by June, NASA spokeswoman Kirsten Larson said.

Despite the new procedures, NASA doesn't expect to lift its prohibition on taking civilians to space on its own space shuttles, and the rules are being drafted because trips like Mr. Tito's are likely to follow.

"We anticipate the Russians will be interested in continuing this in the future," Miss Larson said.

So is Mr. Anderson, and it likely is just a matter of time before he works out a deal with the Russian space agency to take another starry-eyed adventurer to space.


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