Civilians in space
I guess I'm revealing my age a bit if I tell you that I remember the Challenger disaster in 1986.
It was evening in my corner of the world, and I was just putting my jacket on to go to evening class where I was learning Spanish (which I have since forgotten).
The TV was on, and out of the cornet of my eye, I saw the shuttle explode. First, there was disbelief, then shock. I took my jacket off again, and sat down..
There had been a lot of publicity, because the first civilian, a school teacher, was in that shuttle, making history as the first civilian to go into space.
From what I understand, it was NASA's plan to send more civilians into space, but the tragic accident with the Challenger put a stop to that.
It took many years until another civilian went into space.
I am sure that anyone interested in space, is familiar with the name Dennis Tito. He was the first civilian to sponsor his own trip into space. He spent 8 days at the International Space Station in 2001.
Mark Suttleworth was the second one to go into space and sponsoring his own trip. He went in 2002.
Then there was Gregory Olson in 2005.
Several tourists have gone into space now, including Charles Simonyi from Microsoft, who went twice. Once in 2007, and a second time in 2009.
Challenger was bad. I think it spooked NASA real bad as far as sending civilians into space is concerned, as evidenced by all the empty slots on space shuttle missions that they could have filled with civilians who were willing to pay for the experience, go through training and help with tasks on the space shuttle. But one thing that I heard recently is that SpaceX intends to send two paying civilians around the Moon in 2018. All that Elon Musk will say about the passengers is that "They're not from Hollywood." But it is a good sign that people are willing to pay big bucks to go into space. It says that people are getting used to the idea that space travel doesn't need to be purely the realm of the government and people on its payroll.
Challenger was terrible, and so was the space shuttle Columbia. Young lives lost, bright people who had an incredibly exciting future ahead of them, being part of the space program and all that. I found the Challenger accident especially tragic because of Christa's parents watching. Imagine being a parent and seeing the shuttle your daughter is in take off and then explode.
You're so right that NASA was spooked. They had planned to send more civilians in space, but changed their minds which was the right thing to do.
The few civilians who have been in space have paid big bucks. If I'm not mistaken, about 50 million dollars for each trip. When you think about how much a space suit costs, the 50 million dollars isn't too far fetched.
I'm dying to know who the next civilian will be to visit space. It wouldn't surprise me it it was Mark Zuckerberg, or maybe Apple staff, since Microsoft has already gone twice. Could be google also. If it's not a Hollywood star, then it's probably a technology guru. Just guessing here. Whomever it ends up being, I'm sure that there will be more than enough publicity around it. Get ready for the big show!