Brazil's First Astronaut Prepares for Historic Spaceflight

Brazil's First Astronaut Prepares for Historic Spaceflight
Brazilian astronaut Marcos Cesar Pontes speaks during a news conference at the training center in Star City outside, Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2006. Pontes is to take part in the 13th expedition to the ISS on March 30, 2006. (Image credit: AP Photo/Misha Japaridze.)

"I would like to tell(Brazilians) that despite the fact that I will be the only Brazilian in space,I feel the support and prayers from 180 million Brazilians who will be therewith me,'' Brazilian air force Lt. Col. Marcos Cesar Pontes told reporters.

Pontes, who is currentlymaking final preparations for the flight at the Star City astronaut trainingcenter outside Moscow, said that he was confident he would be ready for the historic mission.

"We are on a very toughtraining schedule. ... We are using every minute to train. I am certain that bythe start time we and the equipment will be ready for the success of themission,'' he said.

Brazil and Russia signed anagreement for the space mission during Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula daSilva's visit to Moscow last October.

The trip is scheduled forMarch 29.

The Brazilian, who willblast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with Russian astronautPavel Vinogradov and U.S cosmonaut Jeffrey Williams, will spend eight days onthe International Space Station before returning to Earth with the outgoingtwo-man crew.

Pontes began training in1998 in the United States and was scheduled to fly to the space station aboarda U.S. space shuttle, but those plans were scrapped after the U.S. NationalAeronautics and Space Administration suspended shuttle flights in the wake ofthe 2003 Columbia explosion.

Following the U.S. shuttledisaster, the Latin American nation began discussions with Russia about thepossibility of Pontes traveling aboard a Russian rocket.

During a November 2004visit to Brazil, Russian President Vladimir Putin also agreed that Russia wouldhelp Brazil resume its space program and restore its rocket-launching base,which was destroyed by a rocketexplosion in 2003 that killed 21 people.


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