NEW YORK (Reuters) - Google co-founder Sergey Brin wants to go to space and has made a $5 million down payment to book a seat on a private space flight with Space Adventures, the space tourism company said on Wednesday.
The full price he will pay for the trip to the International Space Station is likely to be more than $35 million, Space Adventures CEO Eric Anderson said.
At a news conference in New York, Anderson announced the creation of an Orbital Mission Explorers Circle of members who will each contribute $5 million to help finance the company's first private mission to the space station.
Previously Space Adventures has bought seats on Russian space agency missions to the orbiting ISS. It now plans to build its own Soyuz rocket for private missions that could start as soon as the second half of 2011.
The company aims to send one mission a year to the space station, with two clients on each flight, Anderson said.
Brin, 34, and Larry Page, 35, made history in their 20s when they set up the Google search engine and they are now billionaires. Brin was born in Moscow to two mathematicians who emigrated when he was 6 years old to the United States.
The $5 million down payment gives members first option on a seat on the mission. Anderson said he was looking for five more wealthy people to be founder members of the Explorers Circle.
But he said private space exploration shouldn't be just for the very rich. His company offers zero-gravity flights that cost under $4,000 and would like to give away a seat on an orbital space flight in a lottery or competition.
"It very much has been a vision of Space Adventures to enable the common person who may have a few dollars to spend for a chance to go to space to buy such a chance and then to possibly win it," Anderson said.
"We've talked to television companies about reality-type shows, we've talked to lotteries, we've talked to sponsors ... . I am confident that that will happen at some point in the future, maybe in time for a 2011 mission, maybe afterwards."
While the United States only flies professional astronauts, specially trained tourists and other space travelers have been able to fly to the station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
So far four U.S. citizens and a South African have traveled to the ISS. Richard Garriott, a computer game developer and son of a former NASA astronaut, will be the next client to visit the space station in October, paying $35 million.
Garriott, who has spent most of the past six months in Russia training for his trip, said he had hundreds of thousands of dollars of contracts from pharmaceutical companies to take protein crystals into space. Microgravity is believed to enhance crystal formation, which can be used in development of new drugs. He said he believed such commercial ventures could cover the cost of future space trips entirely.
"I'm already thinking about my second trip to space," he told the news conference.
Anderson said Brin, who was not present, could choose to fly on the 2011 mission or on one of the subsequent private missions, depending on his schedule.
"I am a big believer in the exploration and commercial development of the space frontier and am looking forward to the possibility of going into space," Brin said in a statement.
Asked by a reporter in San Francisco how he felt about Brin's space ambitions, Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt would say only: "I'm not going."
Google's latest quarterly filing noted that if the company were to lose the services of Brin or other senior members of the management team, it "could seriously harm our business."
Additional reporting by Eric Auchard in San Francisco; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Xavier Briand