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Russia: Moscow Clinches Space-Tourism Deal With U.S. Millionaire

Russia’s Space Agency has signed a contract with a U.S. millionaire Gregory Olsen, who is due to become the third tourist to visit the International Space Station. The flight is scheduled for this fall and Olsen is already training hard at a center outside the Russian capital.

Moscow, 8 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Gregory Olsen is a 59-year-old scientist who founded a U.S.-based company, Sensors Unlimited, which produces infrared cameras.

If all goes well, he will be taken to the International Space Station in the fall when a Soyuz spacecraft brings supplies and a new crew to the station. His trip had originally been scheduled for April, but it was postponed after Russian doctors diagnosed him with an undisclosed health problem.

Konstantin Kreidenko, a spokesman for the Russian Federal Space Agency, told RFE/RL the date for the flight has already been set but is still open to change. “The flight is planned for end of September-beginning of October and is due to last 10 or 11 days from the launch to the landing," Kreidenko said. "The date will be communicated later. For the moment, the date we’ve set is 27 September, but it may be pushed back.”

Olsen’s flight is being arranged by Space Adventures, a U.S.-based private company that organized flights for the first two space tourists: U.S. businessman Dennis Tito and South African Mark Shuttleworth, who went up in space in 2001 and 2002, respectively. Space Adventures says Olsen’s flight will cost $20 million.

Olsen is now actively preparing for his journey at a center in Star City, outside Moscow. He will be training at Star City until the flight and will spend another few days recovering there after his trip.
In rare interviews with reporters, Olsen has said the training was intense but that he was feeling "great" and was looking forward to the flight.

Kreidenko says Olsen’s training is mainly security-oriented. “This training is devoted chiefly to security, so that his actions won’t pose a danger to the station and its crew," he said. "There is just no need for a more in-depth training.”

Sergei Kostenko, the head of Space Adventures’ Moscow office, says Olsen lives with other cosmonauts at Star City and enjoys good living conditions.

“He is studying Russian and lives at Star City’s cosmonaut training center, in a facility where all cosmonauts reside," Kostenko said. "His living conditions are adequate, he trains eight hours a day and has Saturdays and Sundays off.”

In rare interviews with reporters, Olsen has said the training was intense but that he was feeling “great” and was looking forward to the flight.

Olsen, who holds a Ph.D. in physics materials science, plans to conduct experiments in infrared-camera technology and crystal growth during his time onboard the International Space Station. He has said he hopes his experiments will help scientists study distant stars, chemical reactions in the atmosphere, and the health of agricultural crops.

Kostenko says the experiments are currently being test run. “We are trying to organize experiments with his camera, since his company produces infrared cameras," he said. "Right now we are in the process of organizing the experiment of taking pictures from orbit with his camera.”

Space tourism has become a growing source of funding for the International Space Station, which is a joint project between the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, and the European Space Agency.