Utah Sen. Jake Garn may have just paved the way for a whole new industry in space -- tourism. At least that's what Seattle travel agent T. C. Swartz is hoping. Mr. Swartz, whose firm, Society Expeditions, specializes in expensive off-the-beaten-track expeditions and vacations is looking to cash in on America's long-time fascination with space.
He says he is investigating the possibility of a three-day low-orbit ``space tour'' for 24 to 32 passengers, possibly in a specially designed compartment to fit into the space shuttle's cargo bay.
Swartz says that if technical and financial problems can be worked out ``Project Space Voyage'' could be operational by the mid 1990s, eventually offering from three to five flights a year.
``It is our hope to eventually move 300 passengers a year into space,'' says Swartz, president of Society Expeditions.
Until recently the whole realm of space travel was something most Americans left to specially-trained astronauts.
But GOP Senator Garn, among others, have demonstrated that on the shuttle even mere civilians can blast off into space and come home to talk about it.
At a Washington press conference, Swartz told a room full of reporters, ``It is no longer a question of is there going to be space tourism, the question is when.''
He predicted that tourism will become the largest single industry in space during the next century, although not everyone -- especially NASA space-station planners -- would agree. He says that revenues from space tourism could help support future space exploration.
According to his rough proposal, tickets for the three-day, 48-orbit trip would sell for roughly $1 million each.
Swartz estimates that at that price 30 to 60 individuals would sign up for the trip. But he noted that by the turn of the century, ticket costs might eventually be reduced to $50,000.
``It is never going to compete with Hawaii,'' he says.
Society Expeditions currently offers expensive tours and cruises to places like the Northwest Passage, Bali, and Saudi Arabia.
Recently the firm's list of tour options has grown to include a $29,450, 30-day trip around the world in a private jet with stops including Ireland, France, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Nepal, Indonesia, and Hawaii.
Swartz says he considers space to be the ``final frontier.''
``Any place that explorers have gone tourists have eventually followed, and we at Society Expeditions don't feel that space is any different,'' he said.
Swartz said he had consulted with US aerospace firms and NASA about the venture. ``We have received a lot of encouragement from NASA,'' he said.
But a NASA spokesman said he'd heard nothing of the space tourism proposal.