Paid Trips to Space May End

Federal Space Agency chief Anatoly Perminov said Friday that the country might stop selling seats on its spacecraft to "tourists" starting in 2010 because of the planned expansion of the international space station's crew.

Perminov said the station's permanent crew was expected to grow from the current three to six or even nine in 2010. That will mean that the country will have fewer extra seats available for tourists on its Soyuz spacecraft.

Since 2000, five wealthy private citizens have bought trips to the international space station, riding there and back on Russian spacecraft. The trips have brought badly needed revenue to the country's space program.

"We will continue flying tourists to the international space station in accordance with the existing programs, but we may have problems with it starting from 2010 because of planned increase of the ISS's crew to six to nine people," Perminov said, Interfax reported.

President Vladimir Putin on Friday pledged to further increase allocations to the space program and urged officials to speed up construction of a far eastern facility, the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Amur region, to make it capable of handling manned space launches.

Russia launches all its manned missions from the Soviet-built Baikonur Cosmodrome, which it leases from neighboring Kazakhstan for $115 million per year through 2050.

He said the Vostochny Cosmodrome would be built by 2015 and begin handling all manned space launches in 2020.