Space tourism is the recent phenomenon of space travel by individuals for the purpose of personal pleasure. At the moment, space tourism is only open to exceptionally wealthy individuals, with the Russian space program providing transport.
Among the primary attractions of space tourism are the uniqueness of the experience, the awesome and thrilling feelings of looking at Earth from space (described by all astronauts as extremely intense and mind-boggling), status symbol, and various advantages of weightlessness — potential for extreme sports, unusual Censored page, health benefits, especially to older people.
After initial successes in space many people saw intensive space exploration as inevitable. In minds of many people such exploration was symbolised by wide public access to space, mostly in the form of space tourism. While today those aspirations are best remembered in science fiction works, such as Arthur Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, during 1960s and 1970s it was a common belief that space hotels would be launched by 2000. Many futurologists around the middle of the 20th century speculated that an average American family of the early 21st century would be able to spend their holiday on the Moon.
Subsidiary government flights
Whilst it is argued that John Glenn was essentially a tourist on his 1997 Shuttle flight STS-95, commercial space tourism did not start until the 21st century. Ironically, the first real steps in commercial space tourism were taken by Russian space companies. Faced with greatly diminished space financing, the Russian space industry had to find original ways to fund the orbital launches. MirCorp started looking for potential space tourists to visit Russian Mir space station to offset some of the costs of maintaining it. Dennis Tito, an American businessman and former JPL scientist, became the first candidate. When the decision to dismantle Mir was made, MirCorp changed the plans and decided to send Tito to the ISS.
On April 28th, 2001, Dennis Tito became the first fee-paying space tourist when he visited the International Space Station for 7 days. He was followed by South African Mark Shuttleworth. More individuals are keen to make the trip, such as boy band singer Lance Bass, who however had his trip canceled due to funding problems, and scientist and entrepreneur Gregory Olsen . After the Columbia disaster space tourism on the Russian Soyuz was temporarily put on hold, as Soyuz vehicles became the only available transport to the ISS.
The U.S. company Space Adventures has an agreement with the Russian Space Agency for a dedicated commercial flight to the International Space Station. The price for a trip on the Soyuz rocket is $20 million, and a launch date of 2005 is planned.
Commercial space flights
More affordable space tourism is viewed as a money-making proposition by several startup companies. Most are proposing vehicles which would make a suborbital flight of around 90 minutes, peaking somewhere above 100 kilometres of altitude and giving the passengers several minutes of weightlessness, the view of a twinkle-free starfield and the curved Earth below. Projected costs are expected to be in the range of 100,000 USD per passenger. Some companies are hoping to launch commercial flights before 2005.
Constellation Services International (CSI) is working on a project to send manned spaceships on commercial circumlunar missions. Their tourist offer will include a week-long stay at the ISS and then a week-long trip around the Moon. In the best case the company intends to launch the first flights by 2008.
In the long term orbital tourist flights may be superceded by planetary and later interstellar tourism. Such possibilities have been explored in detail in many science fiction works.
More recently, American motel tycoon Robert Bigelow has acquired the designs of inflatable space habitats from the TransHab program abandoned by NASA. His company, Bigelow Aerospace is currently planning to launch a first orbital hotel by early 2006. Other companies have also expressed interest in constructing "space hotels". For example, Virgin executive Richard Branson has stated that he dreams of constructing a space hotel within his lifetime. 
- Profile: Tito the spaceman . BBC article about Dennis Tito's tourist flight.
- RSC Energia Profile of Dennis Tito
- Space Adventures® Announces First Commercial Mission to the International Space Station . Press release announcing the contract to purchase one Soyuz flight.
- Space Future . Website hosting articles pertinent to commercial space activity.
- Branson reaches for the stars in The Guardian
- The Space Tourism Site by The George Washington University Space Policy Institute and Department of Tourism & Hospitality Management
- Space.com Space Tourism . Recent news articles about space tourism.
- Virgin Galactic . Licensee of SpaceShipOne technology and potential future operator of suborbital tourist flights.