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Private space tourism gets another boost 

It may not be that easy, but space travel may be open to you - if you have a few millions to spare, that is.


7 July, 2005: Space tourism has taken another leap, with the third man outside the astronaut-cosmonaut community readying for his journey to space. American businessman-scientist Gregory Olsen is set to travel to space in October this in a Russian Soyuz rocket, in a trip estimated to cost $20 million. Gregory Olsen has been receiving training for the travel for nearly a year now.

The agreement in this regard was brokered by the Russian Federal Space Agency Roskosmos and Space Adventures, an American firm. The next trip of Soyuz to space in October will have Gregory Olsen on board, in the third-ever space travel by someone outside the hallowed realm of astronauts and cosmonauts.

Space tourism? Gregory Olsen hates the tag. He calls himself a private researcher. Olsen is the founder of a New Jersey company making infra-red cameras, which he hopes to take to space on his trip. Olsen said he hopes to do some experiments on growing crystals in weightlessness on his space travel.

Ever since the Discovery Space Shuttle fleet was grounded, travel to space has been the exclusive monopoly of the Russian space shuttle Soyuz. Soyuz takes the space travellers to the International Space Station orbiting Earth, and brings the passengers back. Last flight of Soyuz was in April. The crew on board the International Station is refreshed by Soyuz trips. 

Meanwhile, Nasa is gearing up for the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on July 13, 2005, which it hopes will kick off regular space shuttle flights. The entire Space shuttle fleet was grounded after the Columbia shuttle tragedy in 2003, when the space shuttle exploded in mid-air as it was re-entering the Earth's atmosphere from space. A Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) inquiry found that the tiles on the belly of Columbia overheated, blowing a hole which led to its explosion. After over two years of fine-tuning the Discovery is back on the launch pad, and ready to fly again.

Olsen told the media: "I'm feeling great and hopeful that I will launch this fall. Training has been very intense, but enjoyable. This training has given me tremendous admiration for cosmonauts and astronauts who have spent years doing this and know so much more than I."

Gregory Olsen has been taking part in the cosmonaut training programme outside Moscow for quite some time now, besides jogging and other exercises in the morning. Last year, he could not get the medical clearance to board the flight. This year, he has been successful.

Olsen holds advanced degrees in physics and materials sciences. Earlier, Space Adventures, the company that arranged the deal, has brokered trips for the only two other people that have traveled to the International Space Station as tourists _ American Dennis Tito and South African Mark Shuttleworth.




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