Say Goodbye to Space Tourists: Only Billionaire “Explorers” Need Apply

Space Adventures, a company that has made millions selling orbital joyrides to people worth billions, is trying to ensure that its wealthy clients get a bit more respect.

The Virginia company that pioneered space tourism is rebranding its elite clientele as “space explorers,” pointing to the experiments that they conduct while vacationing aboard the International Space Station. In the process, the company is trying to leave its label as a “space tourism” outfit behind.

“Space tourism isn’t the right word for what we do,” Space Adventures CEO Eric Anderson told Popular Mechanics. “It’s something more. What we’re doing is opening a new frontier. … We’re no longer exclusively a space tourism company, we’re a space mission company.”

Space Adventures kicked off its rebranding effort in earnest last week with the announcement that it would begin charting Soyuz flights to ISS beginning in 2011. The company currently flies tourists as the third passenger on regularly scheduled, government financed missions to the orbital outpost. The charter flights would be commercially funded, carrying a commander and two paying customers.

Google Founder Sergey Brin will likely be aboard the inaugural 2011 flight. He invested $5 million in Space Adventures, money that serves as a downpayment on a flight and makes him the charter member of the brand new Orbital Mission Explorer’s Circle. This exclusive club will have only seven members.

The rebranding effort has been ongoing for some time. Space Adventures’ client Anousheh Ansari, who flew to the space station, gave an interview to Space Future back in April in which she bristled at the label of “space tourist.” Ansari believes the six months of training made her more than just a tourist, even though she is not a professional astronaut.