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
"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."