A Russian report claiming that U.S. entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari may become the first female space tourist to the International Space Station (ISS) is far from official, according to the only company that brokers private trips to the orbital laboratory.
Stacey Tearne, a spokesperson for the Virginia-based firm Space Adventures, told SPACE.com that Ansari has expressed an interest in orbital flight and has visited Russia's Star City cosmonaut training center. But a report by Russia's Interfax News Agency that Space Adventures officials in Russia announced Ansari's status Tuesday as back-up to confirmed Japanese space tourist Daisuke Enomoto is inaccurate, the firm said.
"Nothing was announced from our office in Virginia or Russia," Tearne said.
Ansari and her family have a track record in private space ventures. The family backed the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million suborbital spaceflight contest for private teams, with a multimillion-dollar contribution in 2004. Ansari's Texas-based firm Prodea, co-founded with husband Hamid and brother-in-law Amir, has also partnered with Space Adventures to develop the Explorer spacecraft, a suborbital vehicle that will launch from at least two planned spaceports in the United Arab Emirates and Singapore.
Space Adventures has brokered ISS-bound flights for Enomoto, who is training to launch to the station with the Expedition 14 crew this September, as well the past missions of U.S. scientist and entrepreneur Gregory Olsen in 2005, South Africa's Mark Shuttleworth in 2002, and U.S. businessman Dennis Tito in 2001. Each of those flights carried an announced price of about $20 million.
According to the Interfax report, which cited an unnamed Space Adventures spokesperson based in Russia, a contract to launch the 39-year-old Ansari spaceward aboard a future Soyuz spacecraft was under review.
"Details of the contract are being negotiated. Ansari is expected to undergo training at Star City as a back-up astronaut for Japanese space tourist [Daisuke] Enomoto to perform a space journey in September 2006," Interfax quoted the spokesperson as saying. "Ansari has been examined by Russian doctors who have given their go-ahead to her training."
But Space Adventures said no official announcement has been issued and that its space tourist announcements typically come once ISS crews are officially announced by NASA and Russia's Federal Space Agency, they added.
In addition to providing suborbital and orbital space experiences for private citizens, Space Adventures also arranges flights aboard Russian-built MiG jets and airplane flights that simulate weightlessness. In August 2005, the firm also announced plans $100 million trips around the Moon.
The 34-year-old Enomoto will mark the firm's fourth space tourist to visit the ISS and is training for a 10-day spaceflight. Like all ISS visitors - including Brazilian astronaut Marcos Pontes set to launch with the Expedition 13 crew next week - Enomoto will spend eight days aboard the station before returning to Earth.