World’s Third Space Tourist Ready for Blast-off

A new ISS crew accompanied by space tourist Gregory Olsen is preparing for Friday’s launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz craft.

On Thursday NASA approved the launch of the new station commander, U.S. astronaut Bill McArthur. He and a Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev together with the U.S. businessman will become the 12th space station crew.

Olsen, 59, the founder and owner of Sensors Unlimited in Princeton in New Jersey, is to become the world’s third space tourist, following 60-year-old Dennis Tito of the U.S. and 27-year-old South African Mark Shuttleworth.

The terms of his contract were not disclosed but Russia advertises the price of a Soyuz seat at $20 million.

Olsen is to spend a week aboard the orbital complex and return to Earth with the current station crew, Russian Sergei Krikalev and American John Phillips, who have been in orbit since April.

On Thursday engineers at Baikonur made final preparations for the Soyuz launch, CNN reported. At dawn, engineers began moving the 30-ton, 164-foot Soyuz rocket by rail to the launch pad. After the roughly two-hour journey, workers set the rocket and its Soyuz TMA-7 capsule upright, and began connecting and checking electrical and mechanical systems. Fueling will take place Friday.

On Thursday, Tokarev, McArthur and Olsen met with doctors, reviewed flight plans and conducted computer simulations for operating the Soyuz capsule, said Maxim Kharlamov, a Russian space official helping in preparations for the three men, RIA Novosti reports.

Russia’s workhorse Soyuz and Progress spacecraft have regularly shuttled crews and cargo to the space station, serving as the station’s lifeline after the 2003 Columbia disaster grounded the U.S. shuttle fleet until earlier this year. The shuttle Discovery visited the station in July, but problems with the foam insulation on its external fuel tank have cast doubt on when the shuttles will again be able to service the station.

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