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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

First Russian Space Tourist a Mystery

ReutersThree astronauts training Friday at the Star City Space Center, where the Russian space tourist hopes to follow.
A prominent Russian businessman-turned-politician is in line to become the next space tourist in 2009, Federal Space Agency head Anatoly Perminov said Friday.

Details about the person who might be the first Russian space tourist were few.

"He has personally asked me not to identify him. All I can say so far is that he is a serious, respectable person who is a businessman and politician," Perminov told reporters, adding that the candidate was a young man, Interfax reported.

A former Federal Space Agency official familiar with the issue said the candidate was probably a State Duma deputy.

The former official, who was involved in negotiations with previous space tourists, said the candidate had not yet made a down payment or completed medical tests. "Therefore, he cannot be considered a serious candidate for now," he said by telephone.

He said only two Russians had previously offered to pay to fly to space: Sergei Polonsky, head of Mirax Group, a construction firm, and the former mayor of Volgograd, Yevgeny Ishchenko. But neither had been prepared to foot the price tag, now $25 million. Ishchenko stepped down amid accusations of corruption and was subsequently convicted of illegal entrepreneurial activity earlier this year.

The Federal Space Agency so far has launched five tourists on 10-day trips to the international space station: four U.S. citizens and a South African.

Calls to Sergei Kostenko, head of the Moscow office of U.S.-based Space Adventures, which arranged previous flights for space tourists, went unanswered Friday.

Perminov said in April that the next space tourist might be a Russian governor. He complained at the time that none of the country's richest people, including the 53 billionaires on the Forbes 2007 list, had expressed interest in visiting space. "Perhaps they are afraid of leaving their fortunes unattended," he said.

On Friday, Perminov underscored the need for the country to reduce its dependency on the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which it leases from Kazakhstan, for manned space exploration.

"If we create a new manned spaceship, which is provided for in our strategy until 2015, we will need a new rocket, which will require a new launch pad," Perminov said. "We have not decided whether to build that pad at Baikonur or in Russia."

Perminov did not name the spaceship, but it is widely expected to be the Energia-built Klipper, which the federal space program envisions both as a replacement for the Soyuz-TMA capsule as well as a vessel for interplanetary voyages.

Should Russia decide to launch the ship from its own territory, it would have to build a new cosmodrome from scratch, Perminov said.

Perminov also said Russia was considering whether to cooperate with Indonesia in launching small satellites by rockets fired from An-124 planes rather than from the ground.

Launches of foreign satellites and other commercial services are expected to generate $800 million in sales for the national space and rocket industry in 2008, he said.