MOSCOW – The Russian space agency on Thursday postponed by four days its launch next month of a Soyuz capsule carrying an American who is the first female space tourist to the international space station, a spokesman said.
The postponement until Sept. 18 follows repeated delays in the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis to the ISS. That launch, initially scheduled for Aug. 27, was pushed back to an unspecified date because of Tropical Storm Ernesto and a lightning strike at Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Spokesman Igor Panarin confirmed the Soyuz postponement to The Associated Press, but did not comment on the reason. The news agency RIA-Novosti quoted him as saying "the decision was taken in connection with the postponement of the launch of the shuttle Atlantis."
NASA will do a damage check Thursday to make sure Ernesto caused no harm, then will fine-tune its launch times. It could try a liftoff Sept. 6, 7, or 8.
Riding in the Soyuz TMA-9 capsule will be Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-born U.S. entrepreneur who is traveling as a space tourist. Ansari's contract bars her from revealing the trip's cost, but she noted previous space tourists have paid some $20 million.
In the capsule with her will be Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and Spanish-born U.S. astronaut Miguel Lopez-Alegria. Ansari will spend 10 days before returning to Earth with its current crew, Pavel Vinogradov and Jeff Williams, who have been aboard since April 1.
Ansari, who with her husband co-founded the Texas-based company Telecom Technologies, Inc., is following in the path of space tourists Dennis Tito, Mark Shuttleworth and Greg Olsen, who also traveled to the international space station aboard Russian capsules.
The Russians were worried that a shuttle launch past Sept. 7 would force them to change their Soyuz launch date and land in the dark of night — something they did not want to do because they have a new private firm handling capsule recovery. But in negotiations, they determined NASA's mission would not interfere as long as the shuttle left the station by Sept. 17.
During the long shutdown of the U.S. space program after the breakup of the shuttle Columbia in 2003, Russia's Soyuz manned spacecraft and unmanned Progress cargo ships were the only way to send new crew members and supplies to the space station.