Russia Agrees to Launch Brazil's First Astronaut to ISS
Brazilian astronaut Marcos Pontes poses for a photograph with Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (left) after the two countries signed a space agreement in Moscow on Oct. 18, 2005.
Credit: Brazilian Space Agency (Agéncia Espacial Brasileiria).

Brazil's first astronaut will launch toward the International Space Station (ISS) in March 2006 under an agreement with Russia's Federal Space Agency, Russian space officials said Tuesday.

Lt. Col. Marcus Pontes, of the Brazilian Air Force, is slated to ride up to the ISS aboard a Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft with the crew of Expedition 13 under an agreement signed Tuesday between the Federal Space Agency and Brazilian Space Agency (Agencia Espacial Brasileiria).

"The Brazilian cosmonaut's flight has been set for late March 2006 at the insistent request of Brazil, which failed to launch its cosmonaut under a program of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)," said Federal Space Agency chief Anatoly Perminov, according to Russia's Interfax News Agency.

Pontes, 42, reported to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas in 1998 to begin astronaut training. He served with the Space Station Operations Branch of NASA's Astronaut Office while awaiting a spaceflight assignment, according to NASA officials.

In a statement posted to their space agency's website, Brazilian space officials said Pontes will carry about 33 pounds (15 kilograms) of scientific equipment into orbit on his 10-day flight, and conduct a series of experiments before returning to Earth with the Expedition 12 crew. He has already reported to Russia's Star City for cosmonaut training and will spend eight days aboard the ISS, they added.

Expedition 12 commander Bill McArthur and flight engineer Valery Tokarev boarded the ISS on Oct. 3 and are expected to spend at least six months in space before returning to Earth aboard their Soyuz TMA-7 spacecraft in early April.

Perminov said Pontes' flight will cost about $20 million, though the final price will depend on how busy his program will be, Interfax reported.

"The program has not been confirmed yet," Perminov said according to Interfax.

Under the joint agreement signed by Perminov and Brazilian Space Agency president Sergio Gaudenzi, Russia and Brazil will also cooperate in the development of future rockets and satellites, as well as ongoing work on the country's VLS-1 launch vehicle, Brazilian space officials said.

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