Tuesday, August 27, 2002
Cape Canaveral, Fla. 'N Sync singer Lance Bass started a week of NASA training on Monday for a possible flight to the international space station, even though the trip is still uncertain because of contract issues with the Russians.
NASA welcomed the 23-year-old entertainer and fledgling space tourist at Johnson Space Center in Houston along with the rest of his crew, a Russian and a Belgian. All three flew in from Moscow during the weekend after training at the cosmonaut base in Star City, Russia.
The three men are supposed to blast off on Oct. 28 from Kazakhstan in a Russian Soyuz capsule that will remain at the space station and serve as a fresh lifeboat.
But Bass' participation is in question. He has yet to clinch a deal with the Russian Space Agency despite months of wrangling, and he's yet to be endorsed by a panel of space station representatives.
Without the required week of space station training at Johnson, Bass would have been grounded, no matter what. So as a favor to the Russians, NASA agreed to put him through safety briefings and simulator classes so he would be ready to take off if his contract is signed.
If he flies, he would be the youngest person ever in space.
During his week at Johnson, Bass will learn about the U.S. side of the space station and the dangers of space.
"Space flight can be very unforgiving if there's a mistake that's made, and those are the kinds of things that we'll make sure that all three crew members are trained for," said flight director John Curry. "Make sure that they know the hazards, what valves not to touch, dangers that you can do to your eyes if you're looking out the window."
Bass is only the second space tourist to train at NASA.
South African Internet tycoon Mark Shuttleworth put in his obligatory week in January and spent a quiet week at the space station three months later. But the first paying space tourist, California businessman Dennis Tito, was barred from taking part in NASA training with his Russian crew in March 2001.
Caught off guard by the advent of space tourism, NASA insisted on an extra month or two of training for Tito, a former rocket scientist, and asked him to wait until later in the year. He flew to the space station anyway, in April 2001.
Russia's price for the 1 1/2-week cruise is $20 million. Both Tito and Shuttleworth paid their own way.
Bass, however, is rounding up corporate sponsors and that's why his negotiations with the Russians are dragging. Almost every week, Russian space officials have insisted that the check is due by the end of the week.
Because of the uncertainty over his flight, Bass spent less time training in Russia than his predecessors. But NASA officials say a few months of training are enough for him to get by.