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US millionaire Russian Crew Heads to Space

Next U.S., Russian Crew Heads to International Space Station

U.S. private citizen Gregory Olsen to spend eight days in space

By Cheryl Pellerin
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – The next U.S.-Russian crew of the International Space Station is on its way to the orbiting laboratory in a Soyuz spacecraft that launched late September 30 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Accompanying the crew is a space station visitor, private citizen and physicist Gregory Olsen, who will spend eight days in space and return to Earth October 10 with Expedition 11 Commander Sergei Krikalev and Flight Engineer John Phillips, who have spent more than six months in space.

Olsen is traveling to the space station under a commercial contract with Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency. He paid $20 million for the trip and has spent two years preparing for the mission.

Expedition 12 Commander William McArthur and Flight Engineer Valery Tokarev will stay on the space station for six months after docking with the space station in the early morning hours of October 3.

At a prelaunch news conference from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, September 29, McArthur and Olsen answered questions from reporters.

“None of us have flown on a Soyuz before,” McArthur said. “The record of the Soyuz indicates that it is a reliable vehicle.

“We have tremendous faith and confidence in the people who built and assembled our spacecraft and our rocket,” he added, “and I know, just as I’ve seen with the workers in the American space program, that our safety is the number one goal of all people in the Russian space program.”

McArthur, 54, is a retired U.S. Army colonel. Tokarev, 52, is a Russian Air Force colonel. McArthur is making his fourth flight into space. Tokarev visited the station on a space shuttle mission in 1999.

The 60-year-old Olsen, co-founder of New Jersey-based infrared camera maker Sensors Unlimited, is the third paying passenger to visit the space station. American Dennis Tito traveled to the space station in 2001, and South African Mark Shuttleworth made his trip in 2002.

“One hundred years ago, aircraft flight was reserved for a few brave souls,” Olsen said. “Now all of us travel every week on aircraft. I think the same will be true of spaceflight. Dennis Tito paved the way, Mark Shuttleworth followed, and I’m sure there will be many more after me.”

The last two years, Olsen added, have been “very hard work for me and I want to thank everyone – the Russian space agency, Energia [Rocket & Space Corp.], the medical people for helping me get to this position.”

EXPEDITION 12 WILL CARRY OUT RESEARCH, SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS

During the week that the returning and arriving crewmembers will be together on the space station, McArthur and Tokarev will receive briefings by Krikalev and Phillips on station safety, systems, procedures, equipment and science.

While aboard the space station, Olsen will perform scientific research, including Earth observations, several science experiments for children and three medical experiments for the European Space Agency (ESA).

ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter, 47, of Germany was to have joined Expedition 12 by flying into space on the STS-121 space shuttle mission, originally scheduled for September.

With that shuttle mission delayed until March 2006 or later due to a redesign of sections of insulating foam on the shuttle’s external tank, Reiter will arrive at the space station in the final days of the Expedition 12 mission.

Reiter, who flew for six months on the Russian space station Mir, would be the first non-American or non-Russian station crewmember. He will fly under a commercial agreement between ESA and Roscosmos.

When Reiter arrives at the station, the crew will have three people for the first time since May 2003.

Station operations and maintenance will take up most of Expedition 12's time. But science-oriented education activities, Earth observation and science experiments will continue.

The Payload Operations Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama will operate some experiments without crew input and others work autonomously.

Plans are taking shape for spacewalks by McArthur and Tokarev. They focus on continued outfitting of station hardware and electrical systems and preparing external hardware for adding station elements.

McArthur has made two previous spacewalks; Tokarev’s will be his first.

Expedition 12 will see the arrival of an unpiloted Russian Progress cargo vehicle. The crewmembers also will relocate their Soyuz spacecraft from the Pirs docking port to the Zarya docking port to free the Pirs airlock for spacewalks.

On October 4, the five crewmembers will participate in a joint news conference, taking questions from reporters at participating NASA centers and the Russian Mission Control Center outside Moscow.

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