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In 1983, Ulf Merbold from ESA and Byron Lichtenberg from MIT (engineer and Air Force fighter pilot) were the first payload specialists to fly on the Space Shuttle, on mission STS-9.

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Space tourism is space travel for recreational, leisure or business purposes.A number of startup companies have sprung up in recent years, such as Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace, hoping to create a sub-orbital space tourism industry.Orbital space tourism opportunities have been limited and expensive, with only the Russian Space Agency providing transport to date.The publicized price for flights brokered by Space Adventures to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft have been US –40 million, during the period 2001–2009 when 7 space tourists made 8 space flights.The Soviet space program was aggressive in broadening the pool of cosmonauts.The Soviet Intercosmos program included cosmonauts selected from Warsaw Pact members (from Czechoslovakia, Poland, East Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania) and later from allies of the USSR (Cuba, Mongolia, Vietnam) and non-aligned countries (India, Syria, Afghanistan).

Most of these cosmonauts received full training for their missions and were treated as equals, but especially after the Mir program began, were generally given shorter flights than Soviet cosmonauts. space shuttle program included payload specialist positions which were usually filled by representatives of companies or institutions managing a specific payload on that mission.

The European Space Agency (ESA) took advantage of the program as well. These payload specialists did not receive the same training as professional NASA astronauts and were not employed by NASA.

Some space tourists have signed contracts with third parties to conduct certain research activities while in orbit.

Russia halted orbital space tourism in 2010 due to the increase in the International Space Station crew size, using the seats for expedition crews that would have been sold to paying spaceflight participants.

As an alternative term to "tourism", some organizations such as the Commercial Spaceflight Federation use the term "personal spaceflight".

The Citizens in Space project uses the term "citizen space exploration".

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