Last month, with considerable fanfare, Space Adventures and the Russian space agency Roscosmos announced at a press conference in Moscow that singer Sarah Brightman would be the next commercial spaceflight participant (aka space tourist) to visit the International Space Station (ISS). The announcement contained few details about her trip, including when she would go, although speculation centered around 2015, when NASA and Roscosmos will have ISS crewmembers on a first-of-its-kind year-long stay on the ISS, freeing up seats on Soyuz flights to and from the ISS. Brightman and Space Adventures have said little about the future flight since the press conference.
This week, Russian space industry officials have raised questions about how serious Brightman is about flying in space. Interfax reported earlier this week that unnamed officials have speculated Brightman’s announcement last month was designed to generate publicity for her upcoming album and world tour, which did come up during the press conference. “It is very probable that the singer said she may fly to the ISS to fuel interest in her year-long world tour, which she will begin next year,” the unnamed source told Interfax.
Sergei Krikalev, the former cosmonaut who now heads Russia’s cosmonaut training center, said those claims were news to him, but added he wasn’t surprised. “Many years ago there was an option to send one singer into space. He had undergone a medical selection and there were plans to sign a contract with him,” he said, referring to Lance Bass, who ten years ago had plans to fly as a space tourist but failed to line up sponsorship deals to pay for the flight.
The head of Roscosmos, Vladimir Popovkin, spoke up on Friday in response to those reports, saying that Brightman was still planning to fly, but that Roscosmos hasn’t made a formal decision yet. “I have met her, she is all set to fly, but Roscosmos has not yet decided on it,” he told RIA Novosti, adding that Roscosmos would make a decision in the first half of 2013. (Interfax said the decision wouldn’t come until the second half of 2013.)
The claims by Russian officials that Brightman wouldn’t fly may be evidence of more general disdain about flying space tourists on Soyuz flights. “Space tourism is, unfortunately, a major problem for professionals like us,” said Pavel Vinogradov, another former cosmonaut who is now deputy head of the Energia Flight Space Center. “Tourism undermines the very foundation of manned space flights, because we have to replace young cosmonauts with tourists.”
Popovkin made a similar comment to Interfax when asked why Roscosmos hasn’t made a decision yet about Brightman: “We need to provide young cosmonauts with flight practice.” The decision may hinge on whether the additional revenue such a flight would provide Roscosmos—on the order of $50 million—overcomes their reticence of flying tourists versus professional cosmonauts.