Next astronauts could fly commercial

The next Canadian to travel to space might be making the journey on a commercial flight instead of through the national space agency.

A former Manitoba bush pilot, an ex-Snowbirds pilot, and two other space enthusiasts are among the possible candidates to become the next Canadian to leave the planet.

There are currently no scheduled flights of Canadian astronauts beyond Chris Hadfield, who completes a five-month visit to the International Space Station in May.

An official with the Canadian Space Agency said it's still possible the federal body might send one more astronaut up to the space station before the end of the decade.

Jean-Claude Piedboeuf, the CSA's acting director-general of space exploration, said in an email that the agency is still talking to NASA about getting an additional long-duration flight before 2020. Canada has confirmed its participation in the International Space Station up to 2020.

In the meantime, though, commercial space opportunities are opening up.

Several private companies, like Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, are hoping to begin suborbital space tourism by the end of the 2013. A trip from a spaceport in New Mexico costs $200,000 per person.

Space Expedition Corp. has also started taking reservations through travel agencies for voyages on the Lynx space plane built by XCor Aerospace. Its space excursions cost $95,000.

The arrival of space tourism and other commercial operations will present opportunities for a number of Canadians who are eager, and qualified, to fly beyond the Earth's atmosphere.

SpaceX, a private company, hopes to ship astronauts up to the space station in its Dragon spacecraft in a few years. The vessel, which is blasted into space atop a rocket, has already shipped supplies up to the orbiting crew.

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