SeveralRussian media reports, including some citing a high-ranking official in thecountry's Federal Space Agency, have stated that an agreement is in hand with U.S. entrepreneur and X Prize sponsor Anousheh Ansari fora future trip to the International Space Station (ISS).
"We havesigned 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. "Sheis considered an alternate for the Japanese cosmonaut."
Similarreports have also appeared in other Russian news wires.
Japanesebusinessman DaisukeEnomoto is next in line to ride a Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS as a privatepaying customer under a reported $20 million deal brokered by the Virginia, U.S.-based tourism firm SpaceAdventures. The Russian aerospace firm RSC Energia has posted several images ofEnomoto and Ansari donningSokol spacesuits and inspectinga Soyuz spacecraft, though in March Space Adventures - currently the onlyfirm that arranges private orbital trips -said Ansari had not yetsigned a formal contract with the firm.
RSC Energiaofficials said it was the first time Enomoto and Ansari were "acquainted with [an] operational Soyuz space vehicle."
"Thereare a lot of people in the queue," Space Adventures chief Eric Andersontold MSNBC.com's Alan Boyle last week. "I wouldn't want to spend mytime 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 firmTelecom Technologies with her husband Hamid and brother-in-law Amir. The familyalso providedseed money for the Ansari XPrize spaceflight competition - later renamed for the entrepreneurs - whichoffered $10 million to the first team to build and launch a privately-funded,piloted spacecraft to suborbital space and back twice in two weeks.
Morerecently, the Ansaris have launched their Texas-based Prodea firm and agreed topartnerwith Space Adventures to develop the tourism firm's Explorer spacecraft forsuborbital flights from Singaporeand the UnitedArab Emirates.
SpaceAdventures has brokered a series of ISS flights for high-paying entrepreneurs,beginning in 2001 with the launch of U.S.businessman Dennis Tito. SouthAfrican entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworthfollowed in 2002, with U.S. scientist and businessman GregoryOlsen launching in October 2005. Each of those flights, like Enomoto's,carried a reported cost of about $20 million.
Enomoto, a34-year-old entrepreneur, is currently trainingto launch toward the ISS in September with Expedition14 crewmembers Michael Lopez-Alegria and Mikhail Tyurin. The expedition'sthird astronaut, flight engineer Sunita Williams, will arrive at the ISS aboarda later NASA shuttle flight.
Like hispredecessors, Enomoto will spend about one week aboard the ISS before returningto Earth. Space Adventures officials have also said that CharlesSimonyi, a former Microsoft software developer, is also on tap for a futureISS flight.
The Kommersantcited Krasnov as stating that Ansari could fly to the space station in spring2007, though Simonyi is also a candidate for that flight.
Aside fromits orbital spaceflight services, Space Adventures also arranges trips aboardRussian-built MiG jets, rides aboard an aircraft that simulates weightlessnessthrough a parabolic trajectory, and has announced plans to pursue $100 milliontrips around the Moon.