Several Russian media reports, including some citing a high-ranking official in the country's Federal Space Agency, have stated that an agreement is in hand with U.S. entrepreneur and X Prize sponsor Anousheh Ansari for a future trip to the International Space Station (ISS).
"We have signed a pre-contract agreement with Ansari," said Alexei Krasnov, head of the Russia's manned spaceflight projects, reportedly told the Russian online publication Kommersant last week. "She is considered an alternate for the Japanese cosmonaut."
Similar reports have also appeared in other Russian news wires.
Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto is next in line to ride a Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS as a private paying customer under a reported $20 million deal brokered by the Virginia, U.S.-based tourism firm Space Adventures. The Russian aerospace firm RSC Energia has posted several images of Enomoto and Ansari donning Sokol spacesuits and inspecting a Soyuz spacecraft, though in March Space Adventures - currently the only firm that arranges private orbital trips -said Ansari had not yet signed a formal contract with the firm.
RSC Energia officials said it was the first time Enomoto and Ansari were "acquainted with [an] operational Soyuz space vehicle."
"There are a lot of people in the queue," Space Adventures chief Eric Anderson told MSNBC.com's Alan Boyle last week. "I wouldn't want to spend my time as a backup if I couldn't fly eventually."
Born in Iran and now a U.S. citizen and successful entrepreneur, Ansari founded the telecommunications firm Telecom Technologies with her husband Hamid and brother-in-law Amir. The family also provided seed money for the Ansari X Prize spaceflight competition - later renamed for the entrepreneurs - which offered $10 million to the first team to build and launch a privately-funded, piloted spacecraft to suborbital space and back twice in two weeks.
More recently, the Ansaris have launched their Texas-based Prodea firm and agreed to partner with Space Adventures to develop the tourism firm's Explorer spacecraft for suborbital flights from Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.
Space Adventures has brokered a series of ISS flights for high-paying entrepreneurs, beginning in 2001 with the launch of U.S. businessman Dennis Tito. South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth followed in 2002, with U.S. scientist and businessman Gregory Olsen launching in October 2005. Each of those flights, like Enomoto's, carried a reported cost of about $20 million.
Enomoto, a 34-year-old entrepreneur, is currently training to launch toward the ISS in September with Expedition 14 crewmembers Michael Lopez-Alegria and Mikhail Tyurin. The expedition's third astronaut, flight engineer Sunita Williams, will arrive at the ISS aboard a later NASA shuttle flight.
Like his predecessors, Enomoto will spend about one week aboard the ISS before returning to Earth. Space Adventures officials have also said that Charles Simonyi, a former Microsoft software developer, is also on tap for a future ISS flight.
The Kommersant cited Krasnov as stating that Ansari could fly to the space station in spring 2007, though Simonyi is also a candidate for that flight.
Aside from its orbital spaceflight services, Space Adventures also arranges trips aboard Russian-built MiG jets, rides aboard an aircraft that simulates weightlessness through a parabolic trajectory, and has announced plans to pursue $100 million trips around the Moon.