< Back to front page Text size +

An oral history of space tourism

Posted by Christopher Shea  January 27, 2009 11:37 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

"Space tourist" Charles Simonyi returns to Earth, April 2007

Since 2001, six men have paid from $20 million to $35 million each to ride a Russian rocket into space and spend time on the International Space Station. The M.I.T. magazine Technology Review has compiled an oral history of the experiences of these lucky, plutocratic few, and offers a condensed, edited version in its latest issue.

The adventure begins with intense training (and intense mandatory Russian lessons) at Star City, outside Moscow -- idyllic in some ways, primitive in others: rusty water flows from the taps, hot water is a sometime thing. And Russian spacecraft are hardly gleaming: One private cosmonaut compares the equipment onboard to something out of Jules Verne. (The Russian space program is steampunk!) There are other surprises. During the bus drive to the launch pad, following a precedent set by Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, it's now de rigueur to stop the vehicle and have the cosmonauts exit -- whereupon they pee on one of the rear tires. For some first-timers, the absurdity of this exercise calms the nerves.

The South African Internet magnate Mark Shuttleworth provides the most sensuous experience of what it's like when the spacecraft finally slips Earth's bonds:

The thing I remember as being quite striking was this collection of very domestic sounds that kicks in after the main-engine cutoff. Mechanical sounds, like the air circulation and the conditioning, and then bits and pieces are kind of kicking in. You've got alarm clocks and fans, and you've got a big device called the "globus." It's a ball -- your map, basically -- that turns, and it starts going tick, tick, tick, like a cuckoo clock. You've just gone through this extraordinary experience of getting up into space, and then suddenly it's like waking up inside the workshop of an old Swiss clockmaker or something … this amazing contrast between what you might expect -- which should involve special effects and background music -- and the very mechanical physical reality of it.

(Photo: Reuters / Sergei Remezov)

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


Browse this blog

by category