Third Space Tourist Prepares for ISS Flight

Third Space Tourist Prepares for ISS Flight
U.S. space tourist Gregory Olsen holds a U.S. flag as he enjoys the effects of zero gravity aboard a Russian IL-76 aircraft during his training at Star City near Moscow, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2005. (Image credit: AP Photo.)

The nextpaying customer bound for the International Space Station (ISS) is in the finalweeks of training for the orbital trip, which is set to launch in justover one month's time.

Technologyentrepreneur and scientist Greg Olsen is counting down the days until he stepsinside a Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft and launches toward the ISS withExpedition 12 commander Bill McArthur and flight engineer Valery Tokarev.

"Things aregoing great," Olsen said Wednesday during a telephone interview. "So, fingerscrossed we'll launch on time."

Olsen andthe Expedition12 crew are slated to ride their Soyuz TMA-7 spacecraft into orbit on Sept.30 at 11:54 p.m. EDT (0354 Oct. 1 GMT).

The head ofthe Princeton, New Jersey-based Sensors Unlimited, Inc., Olsen will be the thirdpaying spaceflight participant to fly aboard the ISS. The $20-millionspaceflight follows successful station visits by space tourists Dennis Tito in 2001 and MarkShuttleworth in 2002, all of which were brokered by the Arlington, Virginia spacetourism firm Space Adventures.

"It's moretraining as a crew right now," Olsen said Wednesday of his work in Star City,Russia, where cosmonauts train for their spaceflights. "I'm honored just to bearound these guys ... they recognize I'm coming in green."

McArthurand Tokarev will relieve the station's current crew, Expedition 11's SergeiKrikalev and flight engineer John Phillips, who will return to Earth with Olsenaboard their Soyuz TMA-6 spacecraft on Oct. 10.

Despiterigorous simulations and multiple hyperbolic aircraft flights to simulate weightlessness,Olsen said the most challenging aspect of his mission preparations is notspace-related.

"Probably,it's the Russian language for me, frankly," he said, adding that he is looking forwardto the feeling of weightlessness in orbit. "All of the astronauts andcosmonauts tell me that it's better up there."

Olsen's roadto space has not always been smooth. The entrepreneur first announcedplans to ride a Soyuz to the ISS in 2004, though an undisclosed medicalcondition preventedhim from completing cosmonaut training at Star City.

In May2005, that condition was apparently resolved and hewas again cleared for training and resumed flight preparations in Russia. By late July, aRussian Sokol spacesuit - for the Soyuz flight - and custom-made seat were inthe works for the U.S. scientist.

Olsen told SPACE.comthat, currently, his days are spent learning to perform as a team with theExpedition 12 crew, unlike the first three months of training during which hetrained alone.

McArthurand Tokarev, both veteran space flyers, and Olsen have been performing a seriesof simulations to prepare for their two-day Soyuz flight to the ISS. They areexpected to leave Star City for Russia's spaceport, Baikonur Cosmodrome inKazakhstan, on Sept. 18.

"I havesort of a helper role on the Soyuz," Olsen said, adding that he has trained tooperate some oxygen systems. "I don't have a lot of responsibility."

But Olsenis still hoping to perform infrared imaging experiments during his time onboardthe ISS, as well as hold radio sessions with schoolchildren in the Princetonarea and wherever else possible. His final science program has not yet beenfinalized, he said.

"I do havea ham radio exam tomorrow and a [Soyuz] simulation," Olsen said.

Despite thehefty price tag of his flight, Olsen said he hopes it will reinforce the view thatspace belongs to everyone, and not just large government agencies.

"This isour future," Olsen said of human spaceflight. "It's not a narrowgovernment thing."

The spacetourist-to-be said that while spaceflight is a risky endeavor, he is notfeeling any apprehensions about his upcoming launch, largely due to the provenreliability of the Russian Federal Space Agency's successful Soyuz trackrecord.

"I'm reallyimpressed," Olsen said. "They don't have all the resources they need, but Ithink they do a fabulous job with the Soyuz vehicle."

  • Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 12

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.