October 18, 2005

Russian Rocket Will Take First Brazilian to Space

MOSCOW -- A Russian rocket will take Brazil's first astronaut into space next year for a fee of up to $20 million, the two countries agreed on Tuesday.

With the U.S. shuttle fleet grounded, Russian spacecraft bear responsibility for shipping crew and supplies to the International Space Station -- but they can sell spare seats to other nations and space tourists.

Former test pilot Marcus Pontes said he would spend about 10 days in space, whereas the two-member Russian-U.S. crew he would fly with was expected to stay in orbit for six months.

"I started as a technician on the railroad so my first dream was to join the air force and fly fighters. While I was a pilot I developed the dream about space," he told reporters.

The last person to buy a ticket on a Soyuz rocket was American millionaire entrepreneur and scientist Gregory Olsen, who returned safely to earth last week.

Brazil originally chose Pontes to be their first man in space in 1998. He had previously trained with NASA to fly on one of their shuttles.

NASA grounded the fleet in July after failing to fix a technical problem that killed seven astronauts in 2003.

"We hope that the Brazilian astronaut will fly at the end of March next year ... The cost of the contract as always is up to $20 million," Anatoly Perminov, the head of Russian space agency Roskosmos, told reporters.

The deal was signed while Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was visiting Moscow.