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.
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 there with me,'' Brazilian air force Lt. Col. Marcos Cesar Pontes told reporters.

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

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

Brazil and Russia signed an agreement for the space mission during Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's visit to Moscow last October.

The trip is scheduled for March 29.

The Brazilian, who will blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with Russian astronaut Pavel Vinogradov and U.S cosmonaut Jeffrey Williams, will spend eight days on the International Space Station before returning to Earth with the outgoing two-man crew.

Pontes began training in 1998 in the United States and was scheduled to fly to the space station aboard a U.S. space shuttle, but those plans were scrapped after the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration suspended shuttle flights in the wake of the 2003 Columbia explosion.

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

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