Space Adventures looks for a customer to do a spacewalk after Russia gives its OK

Alan Boyle
NASA astronaut Mike Fincke conducts a spacewalk in a Russian spacesuit during his stint on the International Space Station in 2004. (NASA Photo)

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Russian space officials say that they’ve signed off on a commercial deal with Virginia-based Space Adventures to fly two customers to the International Space Station in 2023 — and that one of those customers would be allowed to do a spacewalk.

Space Adventures’ co-founder and chairman, Eric Anderson, told GeekWire that the company is now checking to see who’s interested.

“There is no specific client who’s been contracted for this one,” said Anderson, who has his office in Bellevue even though Space Adventures is headquartered in Virginia. “We’re looking for clients.”

Space Adventures has talked about selling a spacewalk for more than a decade, and Anderson said some potential clients have expressed interest in the idea over the years. Seattle software billionaire Charles Simonyi, who flew to the space station in 2007 and 2009 with Space Adventures’ help, has said he passed up on the spacewalk option because he didn’t have the time and wasn’t “enough of an athlete” to do the required training.

Anderson acknowledged that doing a spacewalk isn’t for everybody. Preparing for the activity would require about six months of training at Russia’s Star City complex. Activities related to the spacewalk would add an extra week to the usual weeklong stay on the space station.

“It’s a challenge in terms of training,” Anderson said. “It is an adventure.”

But the adventure would go down in the history books as the world’s first commercial spacewalk. And the view of Earth surrounded by the blackness of space would be unparalleled.

“Going to space is unique, period,” Anderson said. “But if you’re going to do this once in your life, and you have the resources in terms of money and time, doing something different and notable adds a lot of value — and means more than you might think.”

In today’s news release, Roscosmos said the contract between Space Adventures and Russia’s main space company, Energia, calls for one of the spaceflight participants on the 2023 mission to go out into space from the station’s Russian segment, in the company of a professional cosmonaut. Anderson said the outing would last up to 90 minutes, which is shorter than the typical six- to seven-hour working spacewalk.

Anderson declined to specify the price for the spacewalk — or the price for a space station trip, for that matter. In the past, NASA has paid more than $80 million per astronaut for Russian rides to orbit. Unless the financial circumstances are greatly changed, a private-sector spacewalker would be expected to pay at least that much.

The most that Anderson would say about price tags is that Space Adventures’ orbital travel packages typically range from $42 million to more than $100 million, depending on the services rendered.

For what it’s worth, Space Adventures also offers a high-end, round-the-moon package, So far, there have been no takers for that, although Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos once said he talked with the Russians about it. “I’m definitely in their target market,” he quipped at the time.

Last year, Roscosmos announced that it signed a contract with Space Adventures to send two customers to the space station in 2021. Anderson told GeekWire that two would-be spacefliers have signed up for that trip but said it’s too early to announce their names.

Space Adventures has been in the business of putting deep-pocketed adventurers on Russian flights to the space station since 2001. So far, seven people have taken such trips, most recently in 2009.

Anderson said the company has had to ratchet down its activity over the past few months, due to the coronavirus pandemic. “We have not done a lot of outward marketing or outreach, because we didn’t know if the whole world was going to break down,” he said.

Today there are a lot more options for private spaceflight than there were back in 2001. Virgin Galactic and Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture are getting ready to offer suborbital space trips to paying customers, and on the orbital frontier, SpaceX and Boeing are making deals with partners that include Space Adventures as well as more recent entrants such as Axiom Space.

Anderson said he was deeply moved to see SpaceX launch two NASA astronauts to the space station last month, but not just because it’s something new.

“The work that goes into a spacewalk, or even having two tourists going together on a Soyuz, or seeing the Dragon launch — all of those concepts, that’s 20 years in the making,” he said. “It’s not tourism. It’s hard. I’m excited about this, not because it’s easy, but because I know how hard it’s been.”

Update for 1:05 p.m. PT June 25: We’ve updated this report with Anderson’s comments.

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