Brazilian Astronaut To Hitch a Ride to Space Station Aboard a Russian Soyuz

by

Brazil’s first astronaut will be launched to the international space station (ISS) in March 2006 as part of an agreement with Russia’s Federal Space Agency, Russian space officials said Oct. 18 .

Brazilian Air Force Lt. Col. Marcus Pontes is slated to ride up to the ISS aboard a Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft with the crew of ISS Expedition 13 under an agreement signed Oct. 18 between the Federal Space Agency and Brazilian Space Agency (Agencia Espacial Brasileiria).

“The Brazilian cosmonaut’s flight has been set for late March 2006 at the insistent request of Brazil, which failed to launch its cosmonaut under a program of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA),” said Federal Space Agency chief Anatoly Perminov, according to Russia’s Interfax News Agency.

Pontes, 42, reported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston in 1998 to begin astronaut training. He served with the Space Station Operations Branch of NASA’s Astronaut Office while awaiting a spaceflight assignment, according to NASA officials.

In a statement posted to their space agency’s Web site, Brazilian space officials said Pontes will carry about 15 kilograms of scientific equipment into orbit on his 10-day flight, and conduct a series of experiments before returning to Earth with the Expedition 12 crew. He already has reported to Russia’s Star City for cosmonaut training and will spend eight days aboard the ISS, they added.

Pontes already is undergoing medical examination at the Institute of Medical-Biological Research in Moscow to get cleared for the flight, according to a Oct. 18 press release at Roskosmos’ Web site.

Expedition 12 commander Bill McArthur and flight engineer Valery Tokarev boarded the ISS Oct. 3 and are expected to spend at least six months in space before returning to Earth aboard their Soyuz TMA-7 spacecraft in early April.

Perminov said Pontes’ flight will cost about $20 million, though the final price will depend on how busy his program will be, Interfax reported.

“The program has not been confirmed yet,” Perminov said according to Interfax.

Under the joint agreement signed by Perminov and Brazilian Space Agency President Sergio Gaudenzi, Russia and Brazil also will cooperate in the development of future rockets and satellites, as well as ongoing work on the country’s VLS-1 launch vehicle, Brazilian space officials said.

Simon Saradzhyan contributed to this report from Moscow.