WASHINGTON — A Kazakh cosmonaut, and not a Japanese businessman who had been training as a backup, will take the place of space tourist Sarah Brightman on a Soyuz flight to the International Space Station in September, the Russian space agency Roscosmos announced June 22.
In a one-sentence statement posted to its Twitter account, Roscosmos said that the agency approved the nomination of Aidyn Aimbetov to the crew of Soyuz TMA-18M, scheduled to launch Sept. 1 to the ISS. Roscosmos offered no additional details on the reason why it chose Aimbetov.
Aimbetov will join European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Volkov on the trip to the ISS. Aimbetov and Mogensen will return ten days later on the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft currently docked to the station, along with ISS crewmember Gennady Padalka.
Aimbetov will fly in the seat originally reserved for Brightman, the popular singer who started training for the flight as a client of space tourism company Space Adventures early this year. Brightman abruptly dropped out of the flight May 13, citing “personal family reasons” in a statement then. Brightman, who had been posting updates about her training on her website and social media, has not updated those sites or provided other comment since canceling her flight plans.
In January, Space Adventures announced it had signed up Satoshi Takamatsu, a Japanese advertising executive, to serve as a backup to Brightman. Takamatsu had been training along with Brightman at least through the time Brightman decided not to go through with the flight.
Space Adventures said in a June 22 statement that they have instead signed a contract with Takamatsu for a future orbital spaceflight at an unspecified date. “We hope that he realizes his dream of launching to space in the next two to four years,” Space Adventures President Tom Shelley said.
Takamatsu, in the same statement, said that art projects he hoped to carry out in space would not be ready in time for the September flight. “I need to dedicate myself to these projects and prepare diligently for them and that cannot be satisfied before the next launch in September,” he said. “Therefore, I will wait until the moment is right for me.”
Aimbetov, meanwhile, has been waiting more than a decade for this moment. Selected as part of the first, and to date only, class of Kazakh cosmonauts in 2002, he trained in Russia from 2003 to 2009 until returning home when the governments of Kazakhstan and Russia could not reach an agreement on a flight.
In an April interview published on a Kazakh government website, Aimbetov said it was still possible he could fly to the ISS, but acknowledged it was difficult. “Flying into space is not like buying a theater ticket,” he said.