After months of hedging, the Russian Space Agency has finally decided that Lance Bass has the right stuff.
The agency has asked the International Space Station Multilateral Coordination Board for permission to launch the 'NSYNC singer as early as this fall, according to a letter sent to the nation-partners in the International Space Station.
"It's official, he's their candidate," confirmed NASA spokesperson Dwayne Brown on Tuesday (July 16). "We did indeed receive a letter nominating Lance Bass for the October flight."
Also on the Russians' list for the prospective three-person crew are professional cosmonauts Sergei Zalyotin of Russia and Frank De Winne of Belgium. The crew proposal letter, dated July 12, is currently being reviewed by the Multilateral Crew Operations Panel, confirmed a spokesperson for the Canadian Space Agency, which is hosting the panel meetings this week in Quebec. "Right now, they're looking at the criteria," spokesperson Anna Kapiniari said, "and determining his eligibility."
Whatever the outcome of those panel meetings, the board of international partners space agencies from Russia and 16 other nations, including Japan, Canada and members of the European Space Agency will have only a few weeks to give their final approval. "Things are moving fairly quickly," NASA's Brown said, "because, in essence, this is coming in late."
Bass already started his preliminary cosmonaut training at Star City, despite approval for his candidacy still pending (see "'NSYNC's Lance Bass Will Be Dropped Into Black Sea"). The Russian letter notes that though training for a civilian usually takes six months, Bass' four-month crash course shouldn't derail him, since his progress is being monitored. "The Russians feel he meets the criteria," Brown said, "and though his training will be shorter than desired, the operative word is safety."
Bass' backers are still working out the financial details of the business plan to fund his $20 million flight, but said that the process is moving along.
Though contracts have yet to be signed, negotiations for corporate sponsors and a network deal appear to be nearing completion.
"As final negotiations continue," MirCorp spokesperson Jeffrey Lenorovitz said, "everything is being left open for Lance to fly. If and when the contract is signed, Lance will still have a chance. The mental approach from the Russians is positive, the whole atmosphere is positive, and people are pulling together. So if the conditions are met, he should have the opportunity to do it. It looks good."
"The process has been started," Brown said, "and the clock is ticking."