Left in the Dust: The First Golden Age of Citizen Travel to Outer Space: UNM Newsroom

The first civilian in space was a Japanese newspaper reporter in 1990, Toyohiro Akiyama. Then, six months later, Helen Sharman, an outstanding British chemist, won a radio competition, defeating more than 13,000 other British men and women. However, both have been refused inclusion in the commercial space tourism club.

“Citizens’ access to space is of great importance as a place for tourism and most importantly for the future of humanity.” Dirk Doran Gibson, Professor Emeritus at UNM

In 1990, Akiyama spent a week in space on behalf of the Tokyo Broadcasting System as a reporter. His employer paid $12 million for his trip, which promoted the 40th anniversary of his broadcast network.

Sharman was a distinguished British chemist, and a member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). She responded to a radio advertisement from Narodny Bank in Moscow about a free flight into space with 13,000 other British citizens. She was chosen because of her chemistry credentials. In May of 1991, she spent eight days in orbit at the Mir space station as part of Project Juno, an attempt to normalize relations between Great Britain and the Soviet Union. The cost was $10 million.

These names are often overlooked, and according to UNM Emeritus Professor Dirk Duran-Gibson, the first golden age of space tourism is long forgotten.

UNM Professor Emeritus Dirk Doran Gibson

“Space-X. Virgo Galaxy. Blue Origin. The names are familiar to all of us,” said Doran Gibson. “But what about Armadillo Aerospace, Bigelow Aerospace, Eads Astrium, XCore Aerospace, UP Aerospace and Transformational Space Corporation, otherwise known as tSpace. More than 100 companies have announced plans to enter the civilian space race, but few have survived.”

He argues that most people have forgotten the first group of civic space tourism promoters, such as the Space Enterprise Council, the Space Frontier Foundation, the Space Access Society, the Space Tourism Society, the Personal Spaceflight Industry, and the International Association of Space Entrepreneurs—there have been more 100 such organizations. According to Doran Gibson, some are still active.

Over the past few years, the world has celebrated three high-altitude citizen flights into the Earth’s atmosphere. Space is a very dangerous environment and a difficult place as a travel destination. These new “astronauts” are brave individuals, but Doran Gibson argues that it is difficult to consider them the first citizens of space.

One of the most important questions that remains unanswered, says Doran Gibson, is what counts as a citizen spaceflight.

“There is uncertainty about what it means for a citizen to travel to space, believe it or not,” he said. “Is it enough to go high up into the Earth’s atmosphere? There are different ideas about where outer space begins. Another factor is that some space authorities define citizen space travel as including only flights paid for by a space traveler. A more restrictive definition of space tourism is that The sole purpose of the flight is entertainment, and the travel costs must be paid for by the space visitor.”

The first space tourists
Dennis Tito was the first space tourist to pay for it, only $20 million in 2001. The American businessman spent his time on the International Space Station enjoying microgravity, music and photography. Upon his return to Earth, the mayor of Los Angeles arranged a press conference in his honor.

Others who followed:

2002 | Mark Shuttlesworth
2005 | Gregory Olsen
2006 | Anousheh Ansari
2007 and 2009 | Charles Simone
2008 | Richard Garriott
2009 | Guy Laliberte

Simonyi has been to space twice, within two years, and spent a total of 25 days in space. This Hungarian-American software developer built the first version of Microsoft Office and was worth $5.5 billion in 2022. His journey cost $55 million. At the age of thirteen, he was selected as a junior Hungarian astronaut. He meticulously documented both trips on his mission website.

“We can and must learn from the relevant past,” Doran Gibson said. “Citizens’ access to space is of great importance as a place for tourism and most importantly for the future of humanity. If we do not take strong steps to create extra-planetary capacity in terms of infrastructure, operational expertise, public-private partnerships, building international alliances, and technological innovation, the human race will perish When our planet dies.

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