Bass Inks Space Deal As Russia's Partners Voice Concerns

NASA, others are worried about his shortened training schedule, inability to speak Russian.

After formally announcing Lance Bass' candidacy for a fall rocket mission

last week, Russian officials have now signed on the dotted line with the pop

star's legal representatives to send him into space.

Negotiations took place over nine days in Los Angeles and finished Monday

night, according to a source close to the deal. A 400-page flight agreement

finalized the terms and conditions for the 'NSYNC member to launch as a

civilian cosmonaut, as agreed upon by representatives for Bass, the Russian

Space Agency, the Star City cosmonaut training complex, the Russian

aerospace company Energia, space commercialization company MirCorp,

television company Destiny Productions and the William Morris Agency. The

financial terms weren't released, but the source said the cost of sending

Bass into space is close to previously reported estimates of $20 million.

Bass announced his wish to go into orbit five months ago, calling it a

"lifelong dream" (see " 'NSYNC's Lance Bass

Plans To Leave Earth"). Since then, the Russians had hedged on

confirming that discussions were taking place, until last week when the

Russian Space Agency sent a letter to its partners in the International

Space Station asking them to consider Bass as their candidate (see "Lance Bass Gets Russia's Nod For October Space

Flight").

"We recognize that his training will be shorter than desired, and we will

closely monitor his progress to assure his flight will be conducted safely

and that he is fully ready for launch in October," the letter read. "We also

recognize that Mr. Bass will have a challenge to achieve the desired level

of Russian language skill. But both of the Soyuz professional crew members

for this flight have excellent English-language skills. ... Finally, the

flight activities planned for Mr. Bass will be tailored to accommodate the

shorter than usual training template."

Those same issues were brought up at a meeting of the Multilateral Crew

Operations Panel last week in Quebec. Russia's space station partners —

including NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency

— raised concerns about Bass' flight worthiness, asking for a review of

his medical background, education, experience, Russian fluency and his plans

for activities while in orbit.

"It boils down to this: we need more information," NASA spokesperson Dwayne

Brown said. "We're continuing to assess his candidacy. But it was determined

that more information is required. For instance, he needs to speak Russian.

He doesn't have to be an expert, but he needs to know enough for a

contingency. So we need to know, what level of fluency are we looking for?"

The MCOP also asked a higher-level group of space station partners, the

Multilateral Coordination Board, to work out a plan to "mitigate the risk of

disruption" of the space station and Bass' proposed crew, Brown said.

Bass' backers said the questions and concerns raised are to be expected.

"This is all very normal," Destiny Productions' David Krieff said. "This is

not out of the ordinary that they would need [more information]. The good

news is that we've gotten to this point, where people didn't think we would

get to. And now that we're here, I really can see how farfetched the whole

thing must have seemed at first. But what's pushed it over the edge is how

dedicated Lance is. He's unbelievable."