Two More to Enter Mile(s) High Club

With all the talk and anticipation lately about the nascent space tourism industry, it’s easy to forget that actual travel in space to this day remains one of humanity’s most exclusive clubs.

But soon, two more people may be able to add their name to the (estimated) 400 to 700 people who have truly slipped the surly bonds of earth.

First up is a Russian grocer who made his money with the Seventh Continent grocery chain: 

A grocery tycoon and politician who planted a flag on the North Pole’s seabed last month will now go into orbit as the first Russian space tourist, leading business daily Vedomosti says.

Vladimir Gruzdev, aged 40, underwent medical tests in June and had been formally approved for a flight on board a Soyuz-TMA spacecraft in September 2008, the newspaper quoted an unnamed source from the Russian space company Energia as saying.

He was one of three submariners who on August 2 planted a rust-proof titanium Russian flag at the North Pole, 4,300 metres under water, in order to boost Russia’s claim for a larger chunk of resource-rich Arctic seabed.

The kid-faced Gruzdev can be seen on the left in this photo from a news report about his exploits at the North Pole last month. 

Next up is Korea’s first astronaut, to be announced later today from two remaining candidates: 

 South Korea’s first astronaut who will fly to the International Space Station early next year will be named Wednesday from two candidates, Ko San and Yi So-yeon.

The Ministry of Science and Technology said that a seven-person committee will pick one name this morning after assessing the scores from their six-month training program in Russia.

Ko and Yi, both with outstanding intellectual and physical abilities, were selected from more than 36,000 applicants last year through a series of rigorous tests and a TV popularity poll. They have been receiving spaceman trainings in Russia’s Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center near Moscow since January.

The ministry said the result will be announced around 10 a.m.

Regardless of who is named by the Ministry of Science and Technology, it’s clear from the numbers that the era of mass space travel is not quite at hand.