MOSCOW – Russia's space agency has signed a contract with U.S. millionaire Gregory Olsen (search) to be the next space tourist, a deal that would make the 60-year-old scientist only the third tourist to visit the international space station.
Olsen could fly to the orbiting station as early as October, when the next Soyuz (search) mission is scheduled to bring supplies and a new crew to the station, Vyacheslav Davidenko, a spokesman for the Russian agency, said Wednesday.
Olsen, founder of a New Jersey-based infrared-camera maker, resumed training in May at a site just outside Moscow for the flight on a Russian-built Soyuz spaceship.
Terms of the deal were not immediately released, but earlier reports said the flight could cost $20 million.
"I'm feeling great and hopeful that I will launch this fall," Olsen wrote in an e-mail exchange with an Associated Press reporter. "Training has been very intense, but enjoyable."
According to Olsen, the crew for his flight has not been officially announced, but he has worked with two other crew members in the Soyuz simulator over the past week. Part of that training, at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (search) in Star City near Moscow, included donning a pressurized space suit. Olsen also said he runs almost every morning.
"This training has given me tremendous admiration for cosmonauts and astronauts who have spent years doing this and know so much more than I," Olsen wrote.
Olsen's trip, originally scheduled for this April, had been on hold last summer because doctors in Russia found an undisclosed health problem during a physical exam.
That ailment was never revealed, but this past May the Russian space program gave Olsen medical clearance. Marshall Cohen, president and co-founder of Olsen's company, Sensors Unlimited Inc., outside Princeton, N.J., said in May that Olsen's U.S. doctors reported that he had no health problems.
Olsen works out regularly with a trainer, is an avid ballroom dancer and otherwise stays physically active.
Russian news reports said the deal was brokered by Virginia-based Space Adventures, the company that arranged trips for the only other two people to travel to the station as tourists — American Dennis Tito and South African Mark Shuttleworth.
Officials at Space Adventures could not be reached for comment.
Olsen, who holds advanced degrees in physics and materials science, has said he plans to bring along several of his company's state-of-the-art infrared cameras to do science experiments.
He previously said he hopes his experiments will prove the value of the cameras in gathering data in space and will help scientists studying distant stars, chemical reactions such as ozone formation in the atmosphere and the health of agricultural crops.
The orbiting station's current inhabitants — Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev and U.S. astronaut John Phillips — arrived there in April on a six-month mission.