The head of Russia's space agency (RosCosmos) announced on Wednesday that no more space tourists would be taken to the International Space Station (ISS) after 2009. He said that he had to take this measure because the ISS needed to be operated by 6 astronauts from that moment on, and that its limited capabilities could not sustain another passenger. Plus, starting with 2010, the entire American shuttle fleet will be grounded, which means that US astronauts will also have to ride the Russian-built Soyuz delivery systems, until 2015, when NASA's next-gen spacecraft is complete.
The Rossiiskaya Gazeta government newspaper, quoting RosCosmos' chief Anatoly Perminov, wrote that software billionaire Charles Simonyi would be the last one to visit the international space project, and that, after his return, the Soyuz systems would be dedicated to important maintenance and expansion work aboard the ISS.
The mission, which will take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in March, will be Simonyi's second journey to orbit. He already visited the ISS an April 7th, 2007, traveling aboard Russia's Soyuz TMA-10. He returned to Earth with the Soyuz TMA-9 mission, which left the International Space Station on April 20th.
These excursions, although they involved training and actually taking private customers to orbit, meant large sums of money for RosCosmos, as each of the participants paid between $20 and $30 million for a chance to be accepted. They also had to pass gruesome medical testing, as the Russians attempted to ensure that they could withstand the rigors of leaving and re-entering the atmosphere of the Earth.
Since the fall of communism in the Soviet Union, the space agency has been largely deprived of the large sums of money that the country won by selling its oil and gases to the outside world. Funds were short, and ambitions very high, so the management thought it should open a new avenue of so-called fund collecting, by taking very rich individuals on space rides for a few days.