Happy Birthday, Space Tourism!

Space tourism turns 9 years old today.

On April 28, 2001, NASA-engineer-turned-investment-guru Dennis Tito thundered off the pad at Baikonur in a Soyuz spacecraft to become the world’s first billionaut. He spent  7 days, 22 hours, 4 minutes in space, most of it aboard the International Space Station, and completed 128 orbits of the Earth.

Since then, six other private space travelers have journeyed into orbit (one of them twice), paying increasingly extravagant fees for the right to visit the space station.  The most recent billionaut, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, paid a reported $45 million for his trip last year.

Orbital tourism to ISS is on hold for a couple of years because of the pending retirement of the space shuttle and the doubling of the permanent station crew to six. It will likely begin again in 2012 when Russia ramps up production of the Soyuz vehicle.