The vast majority of spacefarers have been citizens of the former Soviet Union or the United States but politics and commerce have led to a variety of nations getting their own astronauts into space

The Soviet Union was first to recognize the political capital to be made by taking passengers into space. Since the Soyuz spacecraft servicing their space stations had an operational life shorter than the typical station mission, visiting cosmonaut crews were used to bring fresh spacecraft to the station - arriving in a new Soyuz and departing aboard the older one. These brief visits offered the opportunity to take along cosmonauts from other nations - a programme the Soviets called Intercosmos.

At first, invitations were dictated by the politics of the Cold War - guest cosmonauts came from members of the Warsaw Pact alliance or from nations with which the USSR wanted to maintain good relations. Beneficiaries included Czechoslovakia (Vladimir Remek, 1978), Poland (Miroslaw Hermaszewski, 1978), Vietnam (Tuan Pham, 1980), and India (Rakesh Sharma, 1984). Although the operating life of the spacecraft improved with the Soyuz T and TM models, the duration of the long-term residencies also grew greater, so there was still a need to bring new spacecraft. The reintroduction of three-man flights with Soyuz T also meant that there was almost always a spare seat onboard.

From the mid-1980s onwards, as relations between the West and the Soviet bloc finally thawed, the range of guest cosmonauts increased to include passengers such as Helen Sharman from the UK (see p.217). The eventual collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the appearance of a newly capitalist, impoverished Russia led to further expansion of the programme. Mir was "open for business", and foreign visitors, now paid for by their own governments, space agencies, or even private companies, jostled on the station with American astronauts. Towards the end of Mir's operating life, France paid for its spationaut Jean-Pierre Haigneré to stay on the station for a full six-month research tour.

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