A propulsion and habitation module at left, linked up with a Soyuz spacecraft at right to create a complex designed for flying around the moon and back to Earth. Artist impression (c) Space Adventures

A propulsion and habitation module at left, linked up with a Soyuz spacecraft at right to create a complex designed for flying around the moon and back to Earth. Artist impression (c) Space Adventures

Like i reckoned in some of my past articles, space tourism is getting more and more popular each year, as more aeronautical companies begin to see the high potential of catering for millionaires’ orbital ambitions. One of the most sought after and ambitious space taxi projects is the highly publicized civilian lunar trip, in the works for a number of years now and scheduled to launch in 2015.

The company handling the trip is Virginia-based Space Adventures, which announced yesterday it will add another seat to a Soyuz spacecraft that will take space tourists round the moon, amounting to a total of two seats. The first has been already been taken, while the second one is still vacant. The announcement came as part of a ceremonial procedure celebrating the 10th anniversary of the first tourist flight to the International Space Station, as well as the 50th anniversary of NASA’s first manned spaceflight.

“Space Adventures will once again grace the pages of aerospace history, when the first private circumlunar mission launches. We have sold one of the two seats for this flight and anticipate that the launch will occur in 2015,” Richard Garriott, vice chairman of Space Adventures, said in a statement. “Having flown on the Soyuz, I can attest to how comfortable the spacecraft is, but the addition of the second habitation module will only make the flight that more enjoyable.”

The trip involves a launch inside the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, a 10-day stay on the International Space Station, and a 3.5-day trip to slingshot around the moon and a 3.5-day return to Earth. Eric Anderson, the Virginia-based company’s chairman, said he hopes the second seat will be sold by the end of the year, that would fill out the mission’s crew, which would be headed by a professional astronaut flying in the Soyuz’s third seat.

So far, Space Adventures has flown seven spaceflight participants on eight missions to the ISS, and estimates that by 2020, about 140 people will have been launched into orbital space from various civilian fields, like private individuals, corporate, university and non-profit researchers, lottery winners, or journalists.

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“The next 10 years will be critical for the commercial spaceflight industry with new vehicles and destinations coming online,” said Eric Anderson, Space Adventures chairman. “But, in order to truly develop the industry and extend the reach of humanity over the course of time, there will need to be breakthrough discoveries made and innovative propulsion systems designed that will bring the solar system into our economic sphere of influence.”

related: SpaceX unveils world’s most powerful private rocket

I agree with Anderson, space tourism as it is today is highly exclusive, hard to develop and extremely resource demanding to enterprise, but it’s growing – a lot.

Initially, back in 2005 when the project was initially announced, the price tag for a set was $100 million but since then due to currency changes, inflation and of course the Russian inflated cut have amounted to nearly $150 million. Currently, the Russian Soyuz is the only orbital passenger spaceship, which grants Russia the monopole.

In addition to the Soyuz, a Block-DM upper stage and an extra habitation module would be launched into orbit. After the Soyuz finishes up its zero-G familiarization visit to the International Space Station, it would dock with the other modules, forming a complex capable of taking on the seven-day circumlunar odyssey. “You can think of it in many ways as your miniature space station that you take along with you,” said Richard Garriott.

Although Anderson generally refuses to identify future orbital spacefliers, he made an exception today: “There’s at least one person who will plan on flying into orbit in the next decade, and that’s me,” he said.

Well, does anybody have $150 million lying around? I’d advise you give it up for the chance of becoming the first human being to see the Moon up close in nearly 45 years.