Space crew candidates face final test

Russian cosmonauts and their NASA colleagues, as well as two space tourists, are taking an exam in Star City near Moscow on Tuesday. The results will decide who’ll make up the crew of the next mission to the ISS.

One of the space tourists, Charles Simonyi, is hoping to travel to the International Space Station for the second time and thus become the first one to do so twice. Simonyi went to the spacecraft in April 2007.

“I don’t think that this flight is going to be difficult, with this wonderful crew that I’m flying with. I feel very quiet and prepared. I’m just waiting for the launch,” Simonyi said.

He is a member of the main crew, which also includes Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and American astronaut Michael Barratt.

All the candidates picked examination cards in the presence of the special commission and then entered the ground-based ISS flight simulator to start completing the task.

The back-up crew consists of Russian cosmonaut Maksim Surayev, American astronaut Jeffrey Williams and space tourist Esther Dyson. The 57-year-old journalist may become the second female tourist to travel to the ISS, after Anousheh Ansari in 2006.

This crew is taking the exam in the Soyuz spacecraft simulator. In the evening the results will be summarised each crew will get a mark. Then on Wednesday the crews will reverse roles. Finally on Thursday the commission will choose the next ISS crew in accordance with the results of the exams.


Members of the back-up crew – Esther Dyson (L), Maxim
Surayev (C) and Jeffrey Williams (R) – in Star City on March 3, 2009 (AFP photo / Natalia Kolesnikova)

It is expected that the 19th space mission will be launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 26. It will last for six months and the space tourist will spend 12 days on the spacecraft and return to the Earth with the 18th ISS mission.

The current space tourist will pay between US$ 35 and US$ 45 million for this adventure. The exact sum is not known.

It means prices in space are rising too. In 2001 the first space tourist, American Dennis Tito parted with an estimated US$ 20 million, while the last one, Richard Garriott, reportedly paid US$ 30 million in 2008.

Starting from the the 20th mission, there will be six crew members aboard the ISS, says Vasily Tsibliev, head of the space training programme.

“The workload and the scientific programme have been extended – surprisingly despite the crisis,” Tsibliev added.