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4 Sep, 2007 13:02

Retail tycoon to be Russia's first space tourist?

The Russian rumour mill has generated a likely candidate for who will be the nation's first space tourist. It widely believed he's a member of the State Duma and a supermarket tycoon, Vladimir Gruzdev.

Russian business daily, Vedomosti, quotes a number of sources, who have confirmed his space mission.

However, Mr Gruzdev's spokesperson Elena Yakovleva avoided the issue.
“Vladimir Gruzdev does not comment on this issue – that’s all I can tell you,” she said.

Aleksandr Kostenko, spokesman for Space Adventures, the company that provided access for the five previous space tourists, also denied that Mr Gruzdev was scheduled to fly to the ISS.
“We have not had any negotiations with Mr Gruzdev. We have two places available – one in late 2008 and one in early 2009, and we are negotiating with possible candidates including Russian ones. And we have not officially announced any space tourists, we are at the negotiating stage now,” stressed Aleksandr Kostenko.

40-year-old Vladimir Gruzdev, who owns a major supermarket chain, is not a newcomer to unusual tourism. In August, he took part in the Artic 2007 expedition to the North Pole, where he descended to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean in a submersible.
The significance of the first Russian space tourist’s flight should not be underestimated.
Previously, only foreign space tourists have blasted off from Russia's cosmodrome, since the launch of the programme in 2001.
Now Russians are showing that they are also interested in pushing forward the space programme by any means necessary, even if that means purchasing the multi-million-dollar ticket to the ISS.