October 18, 2005

Brazil and Russia to Sign Space Accord

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) -- Brazil will sign an agreement with Russia on Tuesday to send the first Brazilian astronaut into space, the Science and Technology Ministry said.

Brazilian air force Lt. Col. Marcos Cesar Pontes will fly aboard a Russian Soyuz to the International Space Station, the ministry said Monday. The trip is scheduled for March 22.

Pontes, who is currently undergoing physical exams in Russia ahead of training for the voyage, will spend about a week aboard the space station, performing experiments involving the environment and micro-gravity.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Russian President Vladimir Putin are to attend the ceremony Tuesday in Moscow, where leaders of the two countries' space agencies are to sign the accord.

Pontes began training in 1998 in the United States and was scheduled to fly to the space station aboard a U.S. space shuttle, but those plans were scrapped after the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration suspended shuttle flights in the wake of the 2003 Columbia explosion.

Following the U.S. shuttle disaster, Brazilian authorities began discussions with the Russians about the possibility of Pontes traveling aboard one of their rockets.