Because of carpooling, Russia ends its space tourist program

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Sorry, vacationers. Although hearts will break, Russia is closing the hatch on more space tourists. Even though the program was a success--it netted upward of $20 million each time a gazillionaire decided he wanted the bragging rights of tagging along on a space mission--the Russians need the extra seats. So another legendary example of stratospheric excess is being grounded in favor of smarter economizing.

Russia Cuts Space Tourism

    Entrepreneur Charles Simonyi of the U.S. stands in front of a Soyuz space capsule as he trains to be a spaceflight participant in Star City outside Moscow January 21, 2009. REUTERS/Sergei Remezov (RUSSIA)

    Reuters

    A worker carries out a routine check at the natural gas storage facility of Turkish Petroleum Corporation in Kinali, some 100 km (62 miles) west of Istanbul January 7, 2009. Several European countries will struggle to generate electricity or heating if the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute continues and freezing temperatures stay next week, the International Energy Agency said. "They are deteriorating from day to day because they are all in the Soyuz line they have built in the past - these economies from north Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey," Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist, told Reuters on Wednesday. REUTERS/Osman Orsal (TURKEY)

    Reuters

    A worker checks the valve gears at the natural gas storage facility of Turkish Petroleum Corporation in Kinali, some 100 km (62 miles) west of Istanbul January 7, 2009. Several European countries will struggle to generate electricity or heating if the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute continues and freezing temperatures stay next week, the International Energy Agency said. "They are deteriorating from day to day because they are all in the Soyuz line they have built in the past - these economies from north Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey," Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist, told Reuters on Wednesday. REUTERS/Osman Orsal (TURKEY)

    Reuters

    Workers check the valves at the natural gas storage facility of Turkish Petroleum Corporation in Kinali, some 100 km (62 miles) west of Istanbul January 7, 2009. Several European countries will struggle to generate electricity or heating if the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute continues and freezing temperatures stay next week, the International Energy Agency said. "They are deteriorating from day to day because they are all in the Soyuz line they have built in the past - these economies from north Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey," Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist, told Reuters on Wednesday. REUTERS/Osman Orsal (TURKEY)

    Reuters

    A worker checks the valve gears at the natural gas storage facility of Turkish Petroleum Corporation in Kinali, some 100 km (62 miles) west of Istanbul, January 7, 2009. Several European countries will struggle to generate electricity or heating if the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute continues and freezing temperatures stay next week, the International Energy Agency said. "They are deteriorating from day to day because they are all in the Soyuz line they have built in the past -- these economies from north Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey," Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist, told Reuters on Wednesday. REUTERS/Osman Orsal (TURKEY)

    Reuters

    Workers walk at the natural gas storage facility of Turkish Petroleum Corporation in Kinali, some 100 km (62 miles) west of Istanbul, January 7, 2009. Several European countries will struggle to generate electricity or heating if the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute continues and freezing temperatures stay next week, the International Energy Agency said. "They are deteriorating from day to day because they are all in the Soyuz line they have built in the past -- these economies from north Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey," Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist, told Reuters on Wednesday. REUTERS/Osman Orsal (TURKEY)

    Reuters

    A worker carries out a routine check at the natural gas storage facility of Turkish Petroleum Corporation in Kinali, some 100 km (62 miles) west of Istanbul January 7, 2009. Several European countries will struggle to generate electricity or heating if the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute continues and freezing temperatures stay next week, the International Energy Agency said. "They are deteriorating from day to day because they are all in the Soyuz line they have built in the past -- these economies from north Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey," Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist, told Reuters on Wednesday. REUTERS/Osman Orsal (TURKEY)

    Reuters

    A device that distributes gas from the underground reserves is seen at the natural gas storage facility of Turkish Petroleum Corporation in Kinali, some 100 km (62 miles) west of Istanbul, January 7, 2009. Several European countries will struggle to generate electricity or heating if the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute continues and freezing temperatures stay next week, the International Energy Agency said. "They are deteriorating from day to day because they are all in the Soyuz line they have built in the past -- these economies from north Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey," Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist, told Reuters on Wednesday. REUTERS/Osman Orsal (TURKEY)

    Reuters

    A worker checks the valve gears at the natural gas storage facility of Turkish Petroleum Corporation in Kinali, some 100 km (62 miles) west of Istanbul January 7, 2009. Several European countries will struggle to generate electricity or heating if the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute continues and freezing temperatures reamin next week, the International Energy Agency said. "They are deteriorating from day to day because they are all in the Soyuz line they have built in the past -- these economies from north Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey," Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist, told Reuters on Wednesday. REUTERS/Osman Orsal (TURKEY)

    Reuters

    A worker checks the valve gears at the natural gas storage facility of Turkish Petroleum Corporation in Kinali, some 100 km (62 miles) west of Istanbul, January 7, 2009. Several European countries will struggle to generate electricity or heating if the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute continues and freezing temperatures continue next week, the International Energy Agency said. "They are deteriorating from day to day because they are all in the Soyuz line they have built in the past -- these economies from north Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey," Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist, told Reuters on Wednesday. REUTERS/Osman Orsal (TURKEY)

    Reuters

After this year, the size of the International Space Station's crew will double to include astronauts from Canada, Europe, and Japan, which pitched in to create the orbiting research effort. At the same time, the U.S. Space Shuttle program will end, and NASA will have to carpool (or, more accurately, rocketpool) with the Russians until 2015 when the new American space program is expected to launch.

When he takes off in March, software designer Charles Simonyi, who oversaw Microsoft Office for years, will be the last of six space tourists booked since 2001. Yes, the guy responsible for the obnoxious talking paper clip that cluttered our screens for years will now shoot the proceeds into orbit. Again. He went up two years ago, too. Because for some middle-aged men, a little red sports car just won't do.

I'd love to bemoan the end of this strange modern institution, but for those of us who save up all year just for a trip to the beach somewhere, there was always something distasteful about the entire concept, so it's a little hard to shed tears. Austin tycoon Richard Garriott parted with a $30 million fare when he went up last fall, and he's at least atoning for the ostentatious use of wealth by telling schoolchildren about the experience.

Just one woman, Iranian-American Anousheh Ansari, who cashed in on telecommunications deregulation, got to make the trip. In 2002, Lance Bass went to Russia to prepare to be one of the taxi cosmonauts, but he was replaced with cargo when he reportedly didn't
come up with the money, which he had apparently intended to obtain through corporate sponsorship. Instead of actually flying to the stars, he ended up dancing with them on a television competition. (He didn't win that, either.)

New Mexico "spaceport" terminal that will serve $200,000, up-and-back flights that should start in 2011. Xcor Aerospace, a Californian rocket maker that announced last month its intention to begin launching 38-mile trips in two-seater spaceships piloted by a former Shuttle commander. Those will be a comparative bargain at a projected $95,000 per ride. Before coupon, I presume.
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