Wednesday’s announcement that international recording superstar Sarah Brightman will be flying to the International Space Station marked at major milestone for the Virginia-based Space Adventures: the company had finally booked a genuine celebritynaut for one of its orbital trips.
It was a far cry from 11 years ago, when a largely unknown former NASA engineer turned investment manager named Dennis Tito climbed aboard a Soyuz spacecraft for an eight-day trip to the International Space Station.
And the announcement comes at time when the excitement over the prospects of an extremely wealthy person paying an increasingly absurd amount of money to float around in space like any other regular astronaut has largely faded.
To better understand Brightman’s celebritynaut status, let’s look at a list of seven space tourists who have flown eight flights to the space station since 2001. One millionaut, Charles Simonyi, flew twice.
|Space Tourist||Nationality||Year||Cost (USD)||Profession||Pre-flight Fame|
|Dennis Tito||American||2001||$20 million||Investment management
(Wilshire Associates)/ Former NASA engineer
|Known in investment circles|
|Mark Shuttleworth||South African||2002||$20 million||Software – internet security
|Known in tech circles and his native South Africa|
|Gregory Olsen||American||2005||$20 million||Optoelectronic sensors
(Sensors Unlimited Inc.)
|Known in tech circles|
|Anousheh Ansari||American||2006||$20 million||Telecom
(Telecom Technologies, Inc.)
|Known in telecom circles|
|Charles Simonyi||American||2007, 2009||$25 million, $35 million||Software
|Known in tech circles|
|Richard Garriott||American/British||2008||$30 million||Software gaming
|Famous as “Lord British” among online gamers. Father Owen Garriott was Skylab astronaut in 1970′s.|
|Guy Laliberté||Canadian||2009||$40 million||Performance art
(Cirque du Soleil)
|Well known in Canada. Cirque du Soleil probably better known outside of Canada than its founder.|
Looking at the table, you will notice that this group is largely composed of white males from predominantly English speaking nations. Five of the seven space tourists are American. All but one of them, Guy Laliberté, has a professional background in technology. Most of them were not widely unknown before their spaceflights.
The most recent flights included two men, Richard Garriott and Laliberté, who had some larger claim to fame. Garriott has a rapid and loyal following among online gamers, who know him as “Lord British.”He is also the son of a Skylab astronaut. Laliberté is known as the founder of Cirque du Soleil, which, in truth, was probably better known than he was before his spaceflight.
Both men work in creative professions. During his flight, Laliberté anchored a global telecast featuring artistic performances that included a live concert linkup with U2 concert. The program, which promoted Laliberté’s charity, was viewed by millions around the world, bringing some much needed publicity to the space program and Space Adventures.
However, neither Garriott nor Laliberté has the type of international name recognition and following that Brightman possesses. So, it is likely that her flight will garner more worldwide interest than any of the previous flights.
One good question that has been raised is how Brightman will pay for the trip, which might cost in the area of $50 million or more. The website Celebritynetworth estimates that the British singer is worth about $45 million.
However, it sounds as if Brightman is already working on how to fund the trip. Her forthcoming album, “Dreamchaser,” will include “a collection of songs that has been influenced by the feelings and challenges of her space adventure.” That album will be released within the next few months.
Brightman — who is a UNESCO Artist for Peace Ambassador — is also working on a series of educational projects as well as concerts and events.
In the months ahead, Brightman said she would work with UNESCO to develop a program to promote the conservation of Earth’s resources, as well as education for girls in science and engineering. She said she expected there would be a “chain of events” tying in to the program, including concerts, multimedia experiences and a “song from space.”
Space Adventures said she would continue her U.N. work after the space mission, through a series of “Space to Place”concerts at UNESCO World Heritage Sites, biosphere reserves and parks.
The announcement comes at a good time for Space Adventures, which hasn’t sent a client into orbit in three years. The long gap is due to the retirement of the space shuttle and the doubling of the space station crew to six. All Soyuz seats have been filled.
There has been no news recently on the company’s other major venture, a circum-lunar trip around the moon. (The company needs two clients to spend $150 million apiece, but it has only announced one.) Meanwhile, another effort to send tourists on suborbital flights aboard an Armadillo Aerospace vehicle is progressing slowly.
The schedule for Brightman’s orbital trip has not been set yet. It will likely take place in 2015, when Russian and American astronauts begin a one-year stay at the International Space Station. That mission will free up some seats on the Soyuz transports used to rotate crews to and from orbit.
The interesting question is where Brightman’s trip will fall in the upcoming wave of celebritynaut spaceflights. Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson has promised to send up shiploads of celebrities on suborbital flights aboard SpaceShipTwo, beginning with himself and his family. XCOR has booked Victoria’s Secret Angel Doutzen Kroes for an upcoming flight aboard its Lynx suborbital vehicle. Virgin Galactic is hoping to fly commercially by the end of 2013, XCOR in 2014.
If the celebrity suborbital flights start first, will that increase interest in Brightman’s orbital flight? Or will the public start getting bored with it by then?
It might not matter too much to Brightman. She also has a ticket aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.